WASHINGTON — There was a long time between Illinois High School Association speech state champions from Washington Community High School.
Forty-eight years, to be exact.
Washington senior Elizabeth Link brought home the gold last month from the Peoria Civic Center, winning the state championship in the original oratory category with a powerful talk on the importance of love and support that family and friends can give to sexual assault victims.
Back in 1971, then-Washington senior Rick Atterberry took first place at state in radio speaking. He ended up spending nearly 30 years of his work life in radio.
Link said the #MeToo movement and an October column by Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse entitled, "Dear dads: Your daughters told me about their assaults. This is why they never told you," were the main inspirations for her state championship eight-minute speech.
"I play to win, of course, but my speech wasn't all about winning a state medal," Link said. "I want to inspire change and be an advocate on the issue of sexual assault, and doing the speech gave me a platform to do it.
"Winning the state championship was insane, though. To be a state champion is something you think is almost unattainable. I can't thank my coaches and teammates enough for their help and support."
Lisa Stout, who coaches the Washington speech team along with assistant coaches Erin Craig and Teresa Noe, said she wasn't surprised Link was able to delve into such a sensitive topic as sexual assault and write a state championship-winning speech.
"Elizabeth definitely has passionate views on the subject and she enjoys a challenge," Stout said. "It's a beautiful speech. It even has a little humor."
In an effort to lighten the mood a bit in her otherwise serious speech, Link grudgingly admits she's watched the most recent installment of the reality television show "The Bachelor" starring Washington grad Colton Underwood.
There's an important reason for the mention. On a one-on-one date with Underwood, contestant Caelynn Miller-Keyes talks about being sexually assaulted in 2014, when she was a sophomore in college.
Stout said she's been coaching speech for more than 20 years, including 11 years at Washington, and she's never had a student work harder on speeches than Link.
"Elizabeth is so deserving of this state championship," Stout said.
It was Link's second trip to the IHSA speech state competition. She qualified in original oratory and informative speaking as a junior and senior.
"Being there last year helped me this year," she said. "I wasn't so nervous this year. I knew what I was walking into."
This wasn't Link's first IHSA state championship. She won last year for copy editing in the journalism state competition.
Link is co-editor of the Washington student newspaper, "The Advocate," this year after serving as editor last year. She said her "dream job" would be the fight for the rights of journalists who report overseas.
Atterberry, 66, is a few weeks away from his retirement. The 1975 Bradley University graduate has been employed by the University of Illinois for 20 years, currently as communications specialist for the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.
His 1971 IHSA speech state championship in radio speaking, when the competition was held at Illinois State University, came on the heels of a fourth-place state finish in 1969 and a fifth-place state finish in 1970, also in radio speaking.
Some big names have participated in radio speaking at the state speech competition through the years.
The runner-up in 1969 was Tom Skilling from Aurora West, who has been the meteorologist at WGN-TV in Chicago since 1978.
The 1958 state champion was Roger Ebert from Urbana, the Pulitizer Prize-winning film critic, and the 1972 state champion was Dave Snell from Pekin, play-by-play voice of the Bradley men's basketball team since 1979.
When he competed at the speech state competition, Atterberry said, each radio reading qualifier had to read news stories from a provided script and write a commercial based on a print ad, adhering to a five-minute time limit.
"I learned from that experience how to write quickly, and it gave me a lot of confidence that I could have a career in radio," said Atterberry, who was the public address announcer for Washington football and boys basketball games when he was a student at the high school and the PA announcer for the IHSA girls basketball state finals at ISU.
Five other Washington students have won medals at the state speech competition, including Ava Stovall and Will Crouch, who were sixth last month in humorous duet acting.
Phil Blumenshine was second and first in radio speaking in 1965 and 1966, Chris Meredith was fourth in humorous interpretation in 1988 and Dawn Mack was second in prose reading in 1989.
Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.