A funny thing happened on the way to a forum about the Iraq War troop drawdown that was Saturday's final round of policy debate at Hamilton High School's speech meet.
The white-face pantomimes lurked among a throng of students from Class A and Class B schools across western Montana, all of whom were prepping for debates, speeches and drama performances. (Stevensville and Hamilton would eventually place first and second, respectively in speech; Corvallis first and Ronan second in drama.)
And of course, there was, as always, that perplexing rope trick.
"You have to do the rope thing," said Sierra Pete, a senior from Polson High School with sad-face makeup.
Perhaps just as vexing was that final round of the policy debate, in which two students from Loyola Sacred Heart squared off with a pair of Stevensville High School students over the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
April Cappel, a Stevensville senior, acknowledged the debate was no less heated in mock form than it has been at the national level.
"I guess it's just one of those topics," Cappel said. "Everyone has put a lot of pent-up emotions into it."
With Loyola on the affirmative side of a proposal to "significantly reduce the United States' police presence" in Iraq, Cappel and partner Nigel McCallum had to try and refute a policy that is already essentially the U.S. position.
That was a bit tricky, McCallum said.
Nonetheless, the two sides traded blows over the uncomfortable realities that have made the Iraq War such a difficult one, both for military planners and politicians - and the American public.
The Loyola team, Drew Estep and Shea Mann, laid out a rationale based on the cost, in blood and treasure, of maintaining a large-scale troop presence in a country with a centuries-old history of sectarian bloodshed. The answer, they said, was to move the bulk of American troops out of Iraq and into neighboring Turkey.
"The matter of (an average of) 3.9 deaths a day is not trivial," Mann said.
Cappel and McCallum countered that a U.S. presence in Iraq was the only thing keeping a lid on a complete unraveling of gains made since President George W. Bush added a "surge" of 20,000 troops to the U.S. effort to quell the insurgency and a brewing civil war in Iraq.
"There is a need for troops to keep the peace," McCallum argued.
When the policy debate was over Judge Gary MacLaren had to admit it was a hard subject to try and settle in the course of a high school debate.
"That's a tough one," he said. "Though sometimes I think their arguments are more logical" than those who debate the issue for real.
Whether she was on the winning side of the debate or not, Cappel said this kind of meaty policy discussion gets her fired up.
"I feel very empowered," Cappel said. "I love politics in general. And I've gotten a little taste of what it would be like. I loved it."
As the rest of the final rounds were wrapping up, Hamilton coach Dee Hallock said she couldn't predict how the host team had fared.
"I have no idea how our kids are doing," she said. "When you are running the meet, you don't even have time to check in with your team."
Doug McConnaha, the longtime coach of the Corvallis speech team, was preoccupied with something else.
"Why is it the newspapers always get pictures of the mimes?" he wondered.
Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Team Results/sweeps points
Class A Speech: 1. Stevensville, 75; 2. Hamilton, 63l; 3. Polson 21.
Class A Drama: 1. Corvallis, 95; 2. Ronan, 56; 3. Polson, 45; 4. Libby, 44; 5. Hamilton, 29.
Policy Debate: 1. Drew Estep and Shea Mann, Loyola; 2, Nigel McCallum and April Cappel, Stevensville; 3 Tony Chin and Stephanie Holton, Hamilton.
Expository Speaking: 1. Mariah Abbot, Loyola; 2. Elizabeth Rehbein, Loyola; 3. Eva Feldmann, Hamilton.
Lincoln-Douglas Debate: 1. Allison Sawyer, Loyola; 2. Roxy Rademacher, Corvallis; 3. Meghan Knudtzon, Hamilton.
Humorous Oral Interp: 1. Danny Hurd, Loyola; 2, Ashley Schrammeck, Hamilton; 3. E.J. Hanson, Stevensville.
Extemporaneous Speaking: 1. Brooke Sauro, Loyola; 2. Nick DesCamps, Loyola; 3. Matt Hardy, Loyola.
Serious Oral Interp: 1. Ana Neher, Loyola; 2. Ashely Schrammeck, Hamilton; 3. Katya Hall, Loyola.
Impromptu Speaking: 1. Connor Sandefur, Loyola; 2. Molly Richards, Polson; 3. Secora Richardson, Frenchtown.
Memorized Public Address: 1. Lyle Pocha, Loyola; 2. Maddie Lorang, Big Fork; 3. Justin Englert, Loyola.
Original Oratory: 1. Erin Gallagher, Loyola; 2. Alex Carlsen, Loyola; 3. Matt Zwicher, Corvallis.
Humorous Duo Acting: 1. Jolee Holder and Jason Schikvova, Libby; 2. Matt Winder and Seth Henderson, Corvallis; 3. Jerry Wachal and Delaney Kohler, Polson.
Humorous Solo Acting: 1. Morissa Trunzo, Frenchtown; 2. Greg Eickhoff, Corvallis; 3. Andrew Crenshaw, Polson.
Serious Duo Acting: 1. Justin Winder and Shayna Jessop, Corvallis; 2. Josie Benedetti and Andrew Crenshaw, Ronan; 3. Karis Bedey and Whitney Cleveland, Hamilton.
Serious Solo Acting: 1. Julia Wiencek, Corvallis; 2. Whitney Cleveland, Hamilton; 3. Karis Bedey, Hamilton.
Classical Duo Theater: 1. Mackenzie VanNote and Lynn Davis, Corvallis; 2. Josie Benedetti and Robby Hocker, Ronan; 3. Laura Barta and Sydney Gambrel, Polson.
Pantomime: 1. Elsie Bold, Ronan; 2. Hannah Payne, Libby; 3. Sierra Pete, Polson.