NORMAL — The theme was “deja vu,” and that’s just what happened when University High School won first place — and second — in a national expository speaking contest.

Some 966 schools participated in the speech and debate competition.

“I can’t tell you how rare this is to happen,” said Mark Adams, director of forensics for the school’s speech and debate team.

Senior Audrey Keen, 18, of Normal, took first among a field of 300 students in the expository category at the week-long National Forensic League National Tournament in Birmingham, Ala. Senior Alison Ogunmokun, 18, of Bloomington was national runner-up in the same category.

The competition drew about 3,000 competitors overall. Ogunmokun also placed eighth in humorous interpretation and senior Jay Simmons was a quarterfinalist in both impromptu and extemporaneous speaking.

“We are so very proud of our students’ unprecedented national accomplishments,” said U High Principal Andrea Markert.

Keen, whose trophy remains on the kitchen counter, said part of the fun was sharing it with her team. “I don’t think it would have been the same without Alison. We’re a tight-knit team,” Keen said.

“Our coaches are so much like a third parent. They nurture us and want us to succeed, not only in speech,” said Ogunmokun, who will study public policy and public relations at DePaul University in Chicago.

The same team won the Illinois state championship in February, the first for the school in 33 years, Adams added.  After state, U High held a pep rally for the team. Seven members competed at the national competition.

“Speech (team) gave me so many skills I’ll use in the rest of my life,” said Keen, who will attend the University of Missouri in Columbia. She hopes to study political science and eventually work in international politics.

Her winning speech was about mantis shrimp, a creature that interests her. “I had no idea I’d do so well,” she said.

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