Sitka High DDF, Alaska’s 2022 Division II Champions. No team — not even in Division I — came within 50 points of Sitka this year. Decades of building a program, plus a strong community arts tradition, likely underlie Sitka’s success. (ASAA photo)

Sitka High’s Drama, Debate, and Forensics team won its sixth straight state championship in Anchorage in February.

Sitka has long dominated the ranks of DDF teams in the small schools division, both in the region and the state, but this year not even Alaska’s largest schools came anywhere close to Sitka’s overall point score.

Sitka High DDF coaches Amy Ainslie (l.) and Christian Litten (r.) with team captain and Alaska State DDF Student of the Year Darby Osborne. Both Ainslie and Litten are alumni of Sitka’s DDF program, which started over two decades ago, and consistently dominates regional and state competition. “I feel like we have a really good foundation to maintain and build from every year,” says Ainslie. (ASAA photo)

Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you know what someone means when they talk reverently about the New York Yankees – a sports dynasty that, even though they could be beaten on any given day, consistently won World Series titles.

Sitka High DDF is a little bit like that.

“I feel like we have had a really good foundation to maintain and build from every year, which has been really helpful for our program,” said Amy Ainslie, co-coach of Sitka High DDF.

Ainslie has been with the team for about four years, with fellow coach Christian Litten who took over the team two years prior to that. Not surprisingly, both are alumni of the Sitka DDF program. Ainslie says there’s something about the size of the schools in Southeast – and a relative dearth of many other activities in winter – that tends to funnel some of the best students into DDF. The region has been competitive at the state level for over two decades.

“We find that in Sitka and across Southeast, there’s strong community awareness and support for DDF — people know what DDF is,” said Ainslie. “They hear about it on their local media, they hear about it from students that they know, and from family members. And you know, people are really excited to support those programs.” 

Sitka High 2022 State DDF Results

February 17-19, 2022 Bettye Davis East High School in Anchorage

Individual Events

Informative speaking – 1. Darby Osborne; 5. Isabelle Schmetzer

Original oratory – 3. Jamison Dunn

Dramatic interpretation – 5. Isabelle Schmetzer.

Humorous interpretation – 1. Izzy Williams; 3. Sagan McLaughlin; 5. Aiden LaFriniere

Duo interpretation – 3. Addie Poulson and Darby Osborne; 4. Maia Capp and Sagan McLaughlin

Duet acting – 5. Danica Majeski and Sally Everson

Solo acting – 2. Sally Everson; 3. Izzy Williams.

Pantomime – 1. Jamison Dunn and Aiden LaFriniere; 4. Ben Hedrick, Rita Christianson, and Danica Majeski

Readers Theater: 1. Sagan McLaughlin, Maia Capp, Ben Hedrick, Danica Majeski, and Aiden LaFriniere

3. Addie Poulson, Asa Dow, and Felix Myers

Public forum speaker points: 1. Felix Myers, 6. Darby Osborne

Public Forum Debate: 1. Felix Myers and Jamison Dunn 

Team Awards:

Division II Academic Award

Division II Drama State Champion

Division II Forensics State Champion

Division II Debate State Champion

Division II Overall Sweepstakes State Champion

Alaska DDF Coach of the Year: Christian Litten

Alaska DDF Student of the Year: Darby Osborne

And it doesn’t hurt that Sitka starts them young. Students learn how to spar debate in their seventh-grade English classes, and get to watch the high school team practice. Senior Darby Osborne never doubted that she would be in DDF.

“Growing up I had that view of the debate team, and what they do,” she said. “And then freshman year, I just knew it was the activity that I’d be going into just because I was always a fan of public speaking. I really wanted to learn how to construct arguments. And it just seemed like a really great activity to expand my horizons, and to learn about public speaking and presentation. And kind of right off the bat I fell in love with it. So I stuck with it.”

DDF has twelve speaking events, including debate, all of which develop a student’s ability to hold an audience’s attention, whether it’s humorous interpretation, or extemporaneous speaking. The season runs from September through February, so team members have time to bring their pieces up to competition-readiness. But Sitka DDF also benefits from feeder programs like the Sitka Fine Arts Camp and Young Performer’s Theater. Osborne says Sitka DDF capitalized on talent developed outside the program.

“This year, we had someone who had a background and acting join the team for their first time as a senior ended up taking home of a first place and a third place at state,” said Osborne.

Osborne took first place in “Informative Speaking” at the state tournament, and was sixth-ranked speaker in debate. Coach Christian Litten says that Osborne has earned an exceptional reputation for being a “courteous and kind competitor” in debate – an event that often favors a more assertive tone. For walking that line especially well, Litten says Osborne earned  “DDF Student of the Year” at state.

“As we were getting closer and closer to the state tournament, we were even getting kind of badgered by the other Southeast coaches,” Litten said, “telling us ‘You’re going to nominate Darby, right? because if you’re not, I’m going to.'”

And Litten, for his part, was honored as Alaska DDF Coach of the Year. Although his team is the Division I small schools champion, the next closest competitor – even among Division II large schools – was 53 points behind Sitka. Said Litten (in a Facebook post), “We solidified ourselves as the best DDF program in the entire state. Amy (co-coach Ainslie) and I couldn’t be more proud of this amazing group of young people!”

KCAW’s Erin Fulton contributed to this story.