Intramurals help LPS students coin success stories over past 40 years

Smiles were the currency of choice at Southeast High School during a recent celebration of the Lincoln Public Schools middle school intramurals program.
Dozens of LPS middle school students marked the 40th anniversary of valuable activities such as speech, debate and creative drama. They listened to former and current LPS students and teachers testify about the importance of intramurals in their lives. They then exchanged storylines, debate arguments and poetry presentations in classrooms.
Moore Middle School seventh-grade student Leah and Lux Middle School eighth-grade student Cora said they were happy to be in intramurals. Both said they would encourage other students to join in future years.
“It’s a lot of fun and there’s no harm learning about something like this,” Leah said.
“I think it’s really cool to be able to get a preview of these intramurals before you enter an actual team in high school,” Cora said. “It’s definitely why I joined.”
LPS alum Rhett Bothwell is a speech instructor with the program. Bothwell attended classes at Pershing Elementary School and Mickle Middle School before graduating from East High School in 2021. He said watching current students coin their success stories was rewarding.
“You can see exactly when you watch them what happens when they put their all into it, because they do, and that’s something a lot of teachers benefit from,” Bothwell said. “They get more of these kids’ all, because they know what it means to put their all in.”
Former Lincoln High teacher and theater director John Heineman and Ruth Kay, a former teacher at both Irving and Lefler middle schools, felt intramurals would benefit many seventh- and eighth-grade students. They approached Lincoln Board of Education members with a proposal for speech and debate activities on May 24, 1983. Board members enthusiastically green-lighted the request for the upcoming school year.
Intramurals initially took place after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the fall. In 1987, the school district moved the program to Saturday mornings of January and February and it has remained in that time slot ever since. Board members approved adding creative drama activities for sixth-grade students in 2003.
Sara Danielson, curriculum specialist for secondary English and language arts at LPS, said the eight-week program is open each year to all students enrolled at a LPS middle school. Some participate in solo speech categories such as informative, entertainment and humorous prose, and others take part in group activities.
Students from different schools work together to write skits and participate in speech and debate sessions. Family members watch them showcase their hard work during a public performance day.
Southeast High School paraeducator Michelle Stewart has been involved with intramurals for many years as both a facilitator and instructor. She felt the activities have paid a vast sum of educational dividends.
Smith said composure has been one of the most noticeable benefits she has seen. Students learn how to handle unexpected moments in all of their activities successfully. This teaches them how to turn life’s curveballs into home runs as adults.
“When something doesn’t go as planned, they can still swing with it and carry on without anyone noticing,” Stewart said.
Stewart said the middle school intramurals program is structured to help students collect different sets of skills. Sixth-grade participants learn about improvisation, teamwork, poise and public speaking through creative drama. Older students build more organized presentations with their formal speeches, and they improve their analytical abilities in their debate sessions. All of them gain friendships, confidence and critical thinking skills.
Cora and Leah said that has been true for them in debate this year. Ten students examined the topic of “Preschool should be mandatory for all children.” They didn’t know before the debate which side they would be assigned to present, which meant they might have to overcome personal preferences during the event.
Cora said that stretched their persuasive abilities and helped them grow.
“It’s one of those things that they encouraged us about too, kind of before,” Cora said. “That ability to argue something you don’t believe in.”
Bothwell said his time in intramurals opened many new doors in his life. He relied on his speech experiences in middle school to become a state qualifier on East’s speech and one-act play teams.
“If I hadn’t done that I would not have even attempted to go into speech. I was totally dead set on going into theater, and theater alone,” Bothwell said. “And then I didn’t make it into my first audition at theater, and speech was right there, and I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should try it out.’ As soon as I tried out speech, the next year I was in every play and from then on, every play, every musical.”
Bothwell said he believed intramurals would continue to provide a large amount of educational income for every LPS participant.
“This is a great program,” Bothwell said. “I’m glad I’ve been a part of it for as long as I have, including when I was a student performing.”

Learn more about the Middle School Drama, Speech, Debate Intramurals Program on our website at
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Published: March 15, 2024, Updated: March 15, 2024

Lincoln Public Schools students smile on stage during a celebration of the middle school intramurals program. Students, teachers and community members marked the 40th anniversary of middle school speech, debate and creative drama activities.