PAOLA — Paola High School theater teacher and forensics coach Leslie Coats has mentored a lot of talented students during her 43 years at the high school.

Her performers have earned countless accolades and earned national recognition, but she’s never had a forensics team win a state championship. That is, until now.

Twelve PHS students walked into Washburn Rural High School on May 4 determined to compete at their highest level, and they did just that. The students earned top honors in a variety of categories and finished as a team with the top score, giving Paola High School its first state forensics championship.

“They decided they were going to do it, and they did,” Coats said. “I’m so proud of this group.”

Coats said it helped that most of the students gained experience while going to state the previous year, when the team finished fifth.

Several students also gained experience on the big stage last year when they performed the musical “Celtic Tales” during the Kansas State Thespian Festival and the International Thespian Festival.

Several individual and team performances helped win the forensics title, as forensics competitions are cumulative, with scores from each round being added together.

Some of the top performances were: senior Claire Cox, who finished first in humorous solo acting; senior Emma Cox and junior Ashley Schwach, who finished first in duet acting; senior Dylan Waterman and junior Cooper Eidson, who finished first in improvised duet acting; Ashley Schwach, who finished second in serious solo acting; senior Braden Parks, who finished fourth in impromptu speaking; senior Kailey Johnson and junior Joseph Smith, who finished fourth in duet acting; senior Riley Upshaw and junior Cooper Eidson, who finished sixth in duet acting; and junior Jacob Farmer, who finished fifth in humorous solo acting.

There were also several semifinalists, including: junior Charlotte George for extemporaneous speaking; Riley Upshaw and senior Asher Gulley for improvised duet acting; Asher Gulley and Jacob Farmer for duet acting; Emma Cox for serious solo; and Claire Cox for prose.

The forensic students were also honored during the Paola USD 368 Board of Education meeting Monday, May 13.

The school board members presented a proclamation declaring May 13 as a day of recognition for speech and drama.

Editor and Publisher Brian McCauley can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or

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