Austintown student raises money for third trip to national speech tournament

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Neighbors | Submitted.Jamie Knutti and Johnna Blystone posed with their speech trophies.


Neighbors | Jessica Harker .Johnna Blystone and other Austintown Fitch High Schools students set up a face painting tent at the Austintown Farmers Market on May 3 to help Blystone raise money for her third trip the National Speech and Debate tournament.


Neighbors | Submitted.Austintown Fitch High School students Romond Duval Jr. and Johnna Blystone show off their state plaques from Speech and Debate.


One Austintown High School speech and debate student is going through unique routes to raise money for her third trip to nationals.

Johnna Blystone, a junior at Austintown Fitch and a member of the speech and debate team, has qualified for the National Speech and Debate tournament for all three of her high school years.

“I knew before I was in high school I wanted to be in speech and debate,” Blystone said.

This year’s national tournament took place June 16-21 in Dallas, Texas.

While the school helps students by paying for regular tournaments and state tournaments, students who qualify for nationals are rare and therefore must raise the money on their own.

Blystone participates in the speech category of original oratory, where students pick a topic and write and rewrite a speech about it.

“My category is unique in many ways, because it’s like asking us ‘how do you want to change the world?’ and we get to seriously answer it,” Blystone said.

Her coach is Lauren Woolley. Blystone said Woolley is more than just a coach.

“She really lets me develop into my own person,” Blystone said. “She said that she wants me to get to know the best parts of myself to showcase.”

Since her freshman year, Blystone has been working to raise money to attend the national tournaments.

She said she works on a variety of ways to raise money, including a Go Fund Me page her freshman year that covered almost the entire cost.

“I was so amazed and grateful for the support from the community,” Blystone said.

She said that the next two years the page was not as successful, leaving Blystone to search for other unique methods.

Blystone said she met with local rotary clubs and Kiwanis clubs, talking with them about the importance and benefits of speech.

“They are very generous as well, and often times they try to help me as much as they can,” she said.

Blystone has also set up a free face painting table at the Austintown Farmers Market, working for tips to help raise money.

“Anything that helps is worth doing,” she said. “I’m just grateful for everything that has been done for me.”

Blystone will be the president of Austintown’s speech and debate team next year as well.

“Since I have become an upperclassman my motivations for being in speech have evolved,” Blystone said. “Now I really love helping the younger students and encouraging my friends.”

She said her favorite speech memory was actually when her best friend, Jamie Knutti, got first place at a tournament, though the girls participate in the same category.

“I didn’t place and I didn’t care because Jamie was so happy and I was so happy she was finally getting what she deserved,” Blystone said.

Though, she said she later found that the tournament had an overall best speaker award, that she was awarded.

Blystone said that when she graduates, her favorite thing about speech will be the people she has met.

“It’s been one of the best things I have done in high school,” Blystone said. “The benefits I have received from it are going to help me throughout my life.”