The History of the MPA Speech Team 

Mari Minear , Staff Writer

The MPA Speech Team is among the best of Class A Schools, and over the years, MPA has excelled at the activity, whether it be in Original Oratory or Duo. With a strong team of more than 40 students this year, the speech season is off to a wonderful start, just like previous seasons almost 20 years ago. 

The team began in the 1990’s but never materialized into success right away. By 1998, then-Upper School Director Helen Fisk wanted to make a change in the speech and debate program. Fisk was into speech and debate and wanted to expand MPA’s programs. To do this, she hired Mike Vergin, then a teacher at Eagan High School. Vergin assisted in coaching the speech team, in addition to debate. The team had four kids who participated in the 1999-2000 season. But Fisk wanted to expand the program further. To do this, she turned to one of Vergin’s former colleagues from Eagan, Kari Kunze. 

Kunze accepted a Spanish teacher position at MPA in 2000. With two coaches coming from one of the best speech teams in the nation from Eagan High School, MPA Speech was about to experience something big. Kunze’s first year changed MPA speech. Despite only having around 12 kids on the team in the 2001 season, five of them would go on to win medals at state. In 2002, there were nine medalists and three state champions. 

The year 2003 marked the beginning of MPA’s success. There were 100 students on the team and 16 medalists at state, four of them winning gold. The number of medalists in 2003 holds the MSHSL record for most medalists at a state tournament in Class A. “We introduced [speech] to people and everyone did it. For a while, if you weren’t doing speech at MPA, you kind of weren’t cool,” Kunze reflected. 2004 was a similar success with four state champions and fifteen medalists. The 2005 through 2007 seasons had 28 medalists and four champions, propelling MPA to seventh in the state for total medalists. 

MPA continued its success for the next few years afterward. The team had at least six medalists and had at least one champion most years. The team still showed how much of a force it was at the state tournament. 

I In the fall of 2014, a new coach, Tanner Sunderman, started coaching at MPA. Sunderman contacted Kunze over email and began as a volunteer. He competed against MPA in high school and decided to coach after having a coach who inspired him. “Because of what she gave me and everything she showed me the activity could be, I wanted to give that back,” Sunderman stated. His first year as a coach led MPA to having three state champions. 

The next year, the 2016 season, was harder for the team. “We had upwards of 16 seniors that had graduated, so trying to fill spaces after something like that is always hard,” Sunderman remarked. “We still sent people to state, we still had state champions, we still had someone make it to quarterfinals at nationals, but it was a down year for us size-wise.” The low period for MPA, if there could be one, happened until COVID hit. 

In 2021, Kunze left as a coach, so Sunderman posted to Facebook to find someone to coach. He found Zach Brown, a four-time state medalist. Brown also got his sister-in-law Marce Gangl to coach at MPA as well. The season, while entirely virtual, put MPA back into the spotlight of Minnesota speech. MPA had four state champions at state, ten medalists, and several national qualifiers. Salmah Elmasry ’21 placed first in her final round at nationals, a first for MPA speech. 

Last year was no different. MPA beat its record of national qualifiers and had two state champions. “Ever since that 2021 season, […] things are only looking upward,” Sunderman said. This upcoming season is no exception, with almost 50 students planning to be on the team. There will also be two new coaches this year, providing MPA further success. 

When asked on thoughts for the upcoming season, Sunderman mentioned how this year can set records, remarking, “This is one of those years where we could max out our entry at sections. We could set new school records for qualifiers to state, state points, national qualifiers, especially with nationals being in Minnesota it’s more reachable and attainable than ever.” 

Kunze added, “I’m super excited. A little small this year,” referring back to the 2000’s team with more than 100 students.