Ali McCathern decided to join Gahanna Lincoln High School's speech and debate team on a whim three years ago.
The 2013 graduate earned a top place at the National Forensic League national tournament June 16-21 in Birmingham, Ala.
"Making it to nationals is an honor itself," she said. "When you get there, there are so many dedicated to what you're dedicated to. You compete with big high schools. It's surreal seeing the best of the best. Making it there is an honor. Doing so well is even a greater honor."
McCathern placed in the top 39 out of a field of more than 250 Lincoln-Douglas debaters, head coach Lyle Linerode said.
In the preliminary rounds, McCathern earned a record of 8-4, advancing her to the break rounds. In the four break rounds, she earned a record of 7-5, placing her in the top 39 in the nation for the second consecutive year.
She debated the resolution that oppressive government is more desirable than no government.
"This was a great way for Ali to end her three years of debate," Linerode said. "She is an extremely hard worker and will be missed next year."
McCathern said she was reading a documentary during her freshman year, and one of the characters in the book was on a speech and debate team.
"I talked to my honors global-studies teacher about it, and she encouraged me to sign up," she said. "I didn't know much about it. I signed up on a last-minute whim."
McCathern said the extra-curricular activity was one of the highlights of her high school career.
"Some of my strongest friends were from that team," she said. "You spend so much time together in and out of class. Even after tournaments, we would go to Panera or Caribou Coffee."
She said speech and debate helped her grow as a person and speaker.
"It gives great skills for when you go to college," she said. "It teaches you to present yourself well and polishes you as a person as you go into society. It helps you to make a good first impression on people you don't know. I would recommend it."
McCathern plans to attend the University of Pittsburgh in the fall to study neuroscience.
In addition to McCathern, 2013 graduate Evren Gokcen competed in Lincoln-Douglas debate, and senior Sedona Rosenberg competed in U.S. extemporaneous speaking. They didn't advance to the break rounds.
Both McCathern and Gokcen were attending nationals for their second time.
The tournament was held at Hover and Spain Park high schools and other venues.
Linerode said this year marked Gahanna's 14th appearance at the national tournament.
In addition to Linerode, the team is coached by Kristen Juth.