Ellen Joseph conquers the world of speech and debate

Jill Meier, Journal Editor

Ellen Joseph is one of the top oral interp students in the state and one of 30 best in the country. 

Ellen Joseph is rarely at a loss for words.

When the 2022 senior graduates, she’ll leave as one of Brandon Valley High’s most decorated students in the world of speech, debate and oral interp.

For starters, Joseph is a three-year qualifier for the National Speech and Debate Tournament. In June, she heads to Louisville, Ky. The past two years, Joseph was among the top 30 high school students in the country in all three events that she competed in.

Earlier this spring, she was awarded the Rozella Blunk Interp Away by the SD Forensic Coaches Association.

“This is an award given to the top interp kids in the state,” explains 

Gina Koehn-Rief, who teaches English at BVHS and is the speech and interp coach.

At this time, Joseph is at the top of the NSDA point standings in South Dakota.

“This is unusual for an interp kid,” Koehn Rief said. “Usually, that spot is held by debate kids.”

Joseph is ranked No. 1 in the state in poetry, dram, program of interp and duo. She is also is an Academic All-American, as determined by the NSDA.

“One of the most amazing things she has accomplished, though, is her national ranking in drama. Out of the thousands of kids in the country who do drama, Ellen spent her whole senior year ranked No. 6 in the country,” Koehn-Rief said.

Shes’s racked up 1,098 points in just that event.

“If she got a ranking of 1 in every performance, those points mean she has performed a drama at least 183 times,” Koehn-Rief said, noting Joseph’s 2,518 overall point total. That number translates to over 420 performances in four years, “and that’s just if she got a 1 in every round,” Koehn said. “That is 70 hours of actual competition time. It’s almost impossible to calculate the number of hours of practice that represents.”

Joseph has not shied away from the tough pieces. Every piece she has chosen has represented issues that are important and personal to her.

As the daughter of two veterans, Joseph selected a piece to honor that segment of her family history. Her dram is the story of a military mom whose son is killed in action while deployed in Iraq. Joseph’s poetry program centers on the Alzheimer’s disease. In this piece, she pays tribute to her grandfather who suffers from this disease, in addition to her grandmother, who is his caretaker.

“One of her proudest moments – and most emotional – this year was having her grandparents in the audience to hear her perform this piece,” Koehn-Rief said. 

Joseph came away from the SDHSAA state interp festival in December with a superior rating on both pieces and a perfect score in poetry.

She’s been a fixture at the state competition, having attended three years and competed in nine events, from which she garnered a superior in every one of them, four of which a perfect score was achieved.

Koehn-Rief said she saw something special as Joseph prepared her pieces as a freshman.

“I knew she was going to be good,” Koehn-Rief said. “I had no idea four years ago just how good she was going to be! The fun part is, I have kids coming up who not only look up to and admire her, but are determined to pass up her point total just like she was determined to pass the point totals of kids who were successful in her freshman year. She is leaving a great legacy at BVHS.”


The Brandon Valley Journal


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