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Fitch student named speech and debate Academic All American

March 4, 2020
Allie Vugrincic , The Town Crier

Fitch senior Johnna Blystone is no stranger to the National Speech and Debate Tournament, but this year she will go with the additional honor of being recognized with a rare Academic All American Award from the National Speech and Debate Association.

Blystone, 17, this week will attend the state speech and debate tournament in Wooster for the fourth time, and in June will become a four-year veteran of the national tournament, this year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the past she has traveled to Florida, Texas, and Alabama to compete in the original oratory category, where students research and create a 10-minute speech in response to a broad prompt.

As a four-year national tournament qualifier, her name will be added to a list in a NSDA book, and it will remain there for 50 years.

Article Photos

Staff photo by Allie Vugrincic, staff writer

Austintown Fitch senior Johnna Blystone was awarded the Academic All American Award from the National Speech and Debate Association. Fewer than 1 percent of students in speech and debate garner the award.

Blystone said her speech this year, which focuses on speaking up and not being afraid of confrontation, feels like the one she has been building toward throughout her high school speech and debate experience.

"I feel like a lot of the culture these days, specifically around my generation, is that we are too needy about confrontation and that we don't like it and there's so much pressure simultaneously to suck it up and deal with what's thrown at you, and also to have a backbone and to not have people treat you awfully. So it's this weird dynamic where you sort of have to figure out, well what's the line? How do I tread that?"

She said the speech was hard to read in front of her coach the first time, because it touches on some very personal moments including when classmates followed her home and harassed her in middle school.

"It was very difficult to talk about that. But when I look at that speech, the one I continue to give every Saturday and will be giving at state, it feels like the one I was meant to write, because it's the most honest, true to myself thing I've ever written," Blystone said.

She said a love for reading and writing drew her to the original oratory category.

"I've always loved writing. That's been a passion of mine. It's what I want to do, so naturally freshman year it's like, original oratory, cool," Blystone said. "I thought it was going to be more of a creative writing thing but once I really got into it, it seemed like this massive opportunity to use my voice to sort of improve the lives of people around me and use my experiences and my stories to help open other people's eyes."

Blystone earned her Academic All American Award by accumulating more than 750 points, awarded by judges at tournaments, and demonstrating outstanding character and leadership. Qualifying Academic All Americans also must have a high grade point average and high standard test scores, and have completed at least five semesters of high school, according to the NSDA.

Less than 1 percent of the 141,000 student members of the NSDA earn the prestigious award.

In addition to being the president of Fitch's speech and debate team, Blystone has been involved in the drama club for four years, both on stage and as a part of the crew. This year, she is the stage manager for an upcoming production and is tasked with building the set. Blystone is also the corresponding secretary for the school's chapter of National Honor Society.

Next year, Blystone hopes to attend the College of Wooster, where she is already accepted, or Barnard College at Columbia University in New York City. She said her "ultimate goal" is to someday become an author.

Along with Blystone, three other Fitch students also attend the 2020 National Speech and Debate Tournament.



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