Missoula County Coverage

Jan 27, 2013 10:27 PM by Dustin Klemann - MTN News

Missoula's Loyola posts record 30th straight state title

WORDEN - The words "championship" and "dynasty" are rarely used together when the topic at hand is high school speech and debate. But on Saturday, those words accurately described one coach's team on the quest for 30 straight titles.

With the weight of 29 straight state titles on their shoulders, 29 students from Loyola Sacred Heart High School in Missoula drove more than five hours across the state to be apart of unmatched domination of any sport or activity.

Three of the 29 students were bright-eyed freshmen, participating in their first state tournament, and the person feeling it most was Matthew Stergios.

Loyola's Speech and Debate Head Coach, who led his team to every one of them and very much has the look of a head coach - sans the gruff demeanor. But the road to 30 titles didn't start with ease.

"I took over the team in 1981. There was only six kids returning from the year before. We were a long way from any state title back then and it took three hard years to get the first one," said Stergios.

Stergios admits he wouldn't go through those first two years again. After the first title in the 1983-1984 season, Loyola, and the speech and debate world, witnessed a domino effect. It was at Huntley Project in Worden that the team aimed for 30 straight; a national record.

"I started off in '81, hoping to build a championship team and when we got the first one back in 1983, we had to convince people that speech is for everybody. And once we got that first championship, you hear the expression 'everyone likes a winner', it's amazing how kids started coming out for the program when it got a reputation for being so successful," Stergios beamed.

That success spilled over for families who've been apart of the team's dynasty. Caelin Miltko is a second generation debater - her mother, Susan Miltko, helped the team win the 1986 and 87 titles.

"There was definitely some pushing. 8th grade, I wasn't super into talking in front of people but my mom was like 'you're going to love it, so you need to do it.' And here I am," said Caelin with a smile.

Susan nodded and continued, "Having coached with Matt Stergios, I knew what an incredible experience it would be for her. And I think it took one debate, one meet, before she was hooked. So I didn't have to push for long." Both chuckled. Both understood the incredible trail the team blazed.

Loyola's reputation is one of prestige and Stergios reputation's as a coach draws passive recruiting for young students wanting to participate - and of course - win. But it's his philosophy that fosters those championship ways.

"I treat it like a sport. We have team meetings, we have team practices, we set team goals. I talk to the team how other coaches talk to their teams. We have expectations, we support each other, we work together. It's a lot of the same characteristics that go into coaching a successful sports team, I have applied to speech and debate," said Stergios.

After day-long toil, awards started behind schedule. Most students let loose some energy with enthusiastic dancing within Red Devil's new gym. Others sat in the stands, looking disenchanted with their performance.

With his team ready for the ceremony, high up in the stands, Stergios arrived to the gym with thrilled cheers. The team dawned lei's, paying homage to the Punahou (Hawaii) High School's 29 straight titles in boys swimming from 1958-86.

It was slightly after 7 p.m. Saturday when the team collectively howled in excitement. For the 30th year in a row, Loyola Sacred Heart High School Speech and Debate team were champions once again. A fist pump, handshakes, and hugs followed Stergios' path down the stands. With a grin and a look of sincere gratitude, Stergios graciously accepted the champion plaque.

Emotion peaked through Stergios' voice when we spoke of his team, past and present, "It's beyond anything I could do on my own. I am very lucky. I teach at a great school. It's been a great honor and these kids deserve all the respect they can get. It's nice to see the results and breakthroughs."

Those results and breakthroughs crafted a history and shoes that will be difficult to fill.

Stergios plans to step down from the head coach position after this year, but he believes the program is in capable hands and plans to continue to help out in some capacity.

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