BENSALEM, PA – April 15, 2016
Holy Ghost Preparatory School, the only Spiritan High School in the United States, is once again tops in the state in speech and debate. The HGP team captured this year’s state championship at the Pennsylvania High School Speech League tournament over the weekend on the grounds of Susquehanna University in Central Pennsylvania. It is the 18th state championship in the school’s history.
“We didn’t think we were going to pull it out, but we kept saying, ‘We are still in this,'” said Massimo Cifelli, 18, a HGP team co-captain. “As soon as (the judges) shouted out that we had won, we were so thrilled. It is amazing.” For the seniors on the team at the private, all-boys Catholic school in Bensalem, the state championship is a kind of a “bookend” to their speech and debate careers, HGP team co-captain Collin Quiqley said. The team won its last state championship in 2013, when the current seniors were freshmen. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the last four years. But we are always rebounding and this team was able to do it,” Collin, 18, said Monday.
Competitors from 150 public and private high school teams squared off in a variety of contests including prose and poetry readings, persuasive speaking, dramatic and humorous interpretations and public forum debate. Massimo captured the individual state title for prose reading. Holy Ghost student Nick Guiliano won the state title for extemporaneous commentary, and Joe Zampirri captured the top state prize for poetry reading. About a dozen more HGP competitors finished in the top five of their respective event, school spokesman Ryan Abramson said. “It is great to win the individual awards, but the big team award is what we want to win in the end,” Massimo said.
In the two weeks leading up to the state competition, team members kept assessing their previous competitions and figuring out what could be improved, coach Tony Figliola said. The extra effort made all the difference. “It was such an underdog group,” Figliola said. “But they really came together and we are very pleased. They did what they needed to do and I was emotionally moved.” Holy Ghost will send several of the speech and debate competitors to the National Catholic Forensics League Nationals in Sacramento, California, over Memorial Day Weekend and to the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah, in June to compete in individual events, Figliola said. Both competitions are open to public and private school students.
Figliola has teamed for decades with assistant coaches Jerry Colapinto and John Buettler to guide the Holy Ghost competitors toward the goal of competing on the national stage. Colapinto was inducted into the PHSSL Hall of Fame during last week’s competition for his almost four decades of service to the speech and debate competition. Figliola and Buettler have been PHSSL Hall of Fame members for 20 years. The coaches help the competitors learn how to control every aspect of themselves, including their voice and eyes, Figliola said. “That’s how you figure out how to motivate your audience,” he said.
Beyond the competitions, participating on the speech and debate team has helped them with their communication skills in the classroom, the students said. “I am never afraid to raise my hand,” Massimo said. “It just makes it easier to talk.”
Written by Joan Hellyer of the Bucks County Courier Times
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