SMITHFIELD — Fewer than 24 hours before he was to present his speech at the 4A State Forensics Tournament at Skyline High School last weekend, Quinton Russell said he wasn't even sure he'd be alive by then, much less return home with a first-place trophy.
"I pretty much died the night before," said Russell, a junior on the Sky View High School debate team. "I had the flu: exhausted, dry heaving, a lot of grisly stuff."
Scheduled to leave for Salt Lake City with some other teammates at 6 .m. Saturday, Russell didn't text Sky View head coach Matthew Gillespie that he'd be able to go until 5:20 a.m. Although he was still brutally tired, Russell's performance in original oratory was good enough for a state title and helped the Sky View debate team secure a 10th straight state championship.
"I'm really glad that Quinton trooped through the stomach flu because he was very, very good," Gillespie said.
Trailing Skyline by a few points after Friday's events, Sky View more than made up the difference Saturday, outpointing the runner-up host team 99 to 77. In addition to Russell, Sky View also got a first-place performance from Elise Clark (Lincoln-Douglas) and second-place finishes from Casey Hunt (original oratory), Morgan Taylor (congress), Mark Allred and Eric Holt (policy) and Rachel Gantz and Tori Bodine (public forum) to help it continue its debate dynasty.
"Well, now that a decade has passed, I really don't care about an 11th year," Gillespie said with a laugh.
The head coach for the past three years, Gillespie said a lot of the credit should also go toward his predecessor, Tessa Kunz, and her predecessor, Bryan Purdie, both of whom still help with the program.
"Tessa Kunz is definitely a giant on whose shoulders I stand," Gillespie said. "She's the one who turned this program of excellence into the monster that it is."
Coming in as a sophomore, Clark admitted she felt pressure to help keep things going this year, and she felt even more stress after losing during a round Friday.
"It was tough for me," she said. "I didn't get a lot of sleep Friday night. I just knew I needed to do my best."
But competing in Lincoln-Douglas debate, Clark swept through the remainder of the rounds while debating the topic: "Targeted killing is a morally permissible foreign policy tool."
"Kind of deep," she said with a smile. "Sometimes it will hit me now that I won, and I kind of just sit there in shock that it actually happened."
For Russell, his state title wasn't just a longshot because of his illness. Rather than write a speech on a more traditional topic, he chose to put something together attempting to inspire people to grow facial hair.
"Last year I was doing impromptu speech, and my topic was Hugo Chavez," Russell explained. "I didn't know who that was, but I thought it sounded like 'you go shave,' so I thought about talking about beards. … I just thought it was kind of cool, but then once I started researching it, there's like hard-core evidence — good reasons to have facial hair."
Gillespie called Russell's speech "polarizing" because it was humorous and not a traditional topic.
"It's weird and unusual for this style, so if you're a traditional oratory judge, you probably weren't going to like it," Gillespie continued. "But it was also refreshing and funny and a lot of people liked it. So, it was a gamble, but it was a gamble that paid off."
Russell said the "irony" of his winning speech is that "I can't grow a beard."
"And usually people that do oration are girls," he added, "so it was like, 'I can't grow a beard and neither can you, but we can talk about it anyway,' and people thought it was really funny."