MERCER – The Mercer High School Speech Team was forced to delay the start of its 2020-21 forensics season by nearly a month and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 27-member team was able to take part in two virtual competitions this past week.

Mercer wasted little time jumping into a major varsity event, the annual Pine-Richland Invitational, which was dubbed a “national” event this year because a number of out-of-state schools, just like schools from Pennsylvania, could participate via computer technology which eliminated travel and minimized the danger of spreading the coronavirus.

The tournament attracted 440 individual student forensicators from 38 high schools. Competition was held in 12 speech and debate events. Mercer participated in all but two of the speech events which featured three preliminary rounds and a final round.

Three Mercer performers turned in outstanding individual performances. The lone senior member of this year’s team, four-year veteran Emma Taborek, led the way with a second-place finish in a strong field of poetry competition. In preliminary rounds, Emma was awarded first, second and third-place rankings and she solidified her runner-up placement with a first place ranking and two seconds in the six-contestant final round. Also winning awards was Mercer’s highly decorated duo interpretation team of sophomores Ainslee Konkle and Willow Myers who won the 4th place awards in their specialty. Their four-round performance included a first place ranking and two second places in preliminary rounds. Last year, Ainslee and Willow placed as finalists in ten of the team’s eleven major invitational competitions.

Two other performers recorded solid showings in their events. Freshman Desire Blacksher, competing in humorous interpretation for the first time, lost out on reciprocal fractions from making the final round. She placed seventh overall in humorous while teammate Jacqui McDonald, a sophomore, finished in eighth place.

Last week, Mercer warmed up for their appearance in the Pine-Richland tournament by participating in their first Catholic Forensic League after-school event, a virtual competition run by the Erie Catholic Forensic League. Eight Mercer speakers placed in the top three of their chosen event. Two Mercer students earned $200 college scholarships to Gannon University by winning first places: sophomore Luke Lasko (extemporaneous speaking) and freshman Isabella Smith (dramatic performance).

Mercer speakers will continue to compete online this weekend as they participate in the Pittsburgh Winter Invitational which is being sponsored by the Pittsburgh District of the National Speech and Debate Association. The event is a one-year replacement for Mercer’s annual Rotary-sponsored invitational competition which was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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