Corvallis High School senior Michael McKay has qualified for the 2019 National Speech tournament and was selected Montana District Student of the Year.

The Montana National Qualifying Tournament for the National Speech and Debate Association was held at Billings West High School in Billings on Feb. 8, 9.

Twenty-five schools from all classes attended the tournament with 474 entries spread across 13 different speech and debate events. The top two, or three, finalists, depending on entry numbers, qualified for the national tournament. The tournament required 391 judges volunteering over 1,000 hours.

McKay said he is “honored and excited to once again represent the Bitterroot Valley and Montana at the 2019 National Speech and Debate tournament.”

“Competing in extemporaneous for the last four years has been one of the greatest highlights of my high school career,” he said. “I am so thankful for the opportunity to compete one last time as a graduated senior this June.”

The National Speech and Debate tournament will be held in Dallas, Texas, June 15-20. More than 5,000 students from more than 100 individual NSDA districts will compete for the chance to become National Champions.

The National Speech and Debate Association was created in 1925 to provide recognition and support for high school and middle school students participating in speech and debate activities.

Corvallis has been a charter school since 1991 and has qualified students to the national tournament six times, including this year.

CHS Speech and Debate Coach Doug McConnaha called coaching McKay for the past four years an honor.

“He has an extremely strong work ethic and while he is very competitive, he does this event because he enjoys the challenge of keeping current with world affairs,” McConnaha said. “This will be Michael’s third trip to the national tournament and I am proud to have him represent Corvallis and Team Montana.”

At the awards ceremony McKay was given his award of Montana District Student of the Year by Flathead Speech and Debate Coach Shannon O’Donnell.

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“Michael McKay has had an impact on speech and debate and his influence is felt on his team, within his school and across the event,” she said. “Michael makes friends with everyone because he is optimistic, encouraging and genuine. He views his competition as friends from other schools who are simply doing the same event and sincerely cheers them on.”

O’Donnell talked about McKay’s varied efforts.

“The morning of the divisional tournament, Michael gave a TEDx presentation that we were able to watch live,” O’Donnell said. “Michael’s speech was titled, ‘From Note Cards to Noteworthy’ and it detailed his struggle with his speech impediment and how he is now heading for a career in public speaking because of all the help and encouragement he was given along the way. Rather than seeing a barrier, he saw an opportunity.”

McConnaha called McKay’s speech impediment “his style.”

“It never slowed him down or prevented him from being confident,” McConnaha said.

That confidence, genuineness and enthusiasm has earned him a third-place state medal as a freshman, a state championship as a sophomore, again as a junior, another third-place state medal this year as a senior, as well as a second-place state medal in impromptu, the only year he double-entered.

“When I first saw him after the awards, his first words were how happy he was for the two students who placed ahead of him,” McConnaha said. “Michael competes for the love of the event rather than the awards and has been a role model for students and adults alike.”

During his high school career, McKay has won the state championship for the American Legion Oratorical Contest and traveled to the national tournament and competed at the FFA National Tournament for the past two years.

“Michael McKay’s honesty, determination and openness have been an encouragement to us all,” McConnaha said. “Having Michael also earn Student of the Year was a well-deserved addition to his speech career.”

McKay credited his success to “the many outstanding people who have supported and encouraged me along this journey, including my amazing coaches, Doug and Michelle McConnaha, the fantastic staff and administration at Corvallis High School, the incredible teammates and fellow competitors that have become some of my best friends over the course of the last four years, and the many local businesses and community members who have provided substantial financial support to help me compete at a national level.”

“Finally,” McKay continued, “thank you so much to the Montana NSDA District, words cannot express my appreciation in the honor of being named ‘Student of the Year.’”