Good Talk: Speech and Debate Season Nears End
Posted 03/01/2018 03:36PM

by Mimi Norton/Lion Staff


When I asked Peter Kessler, who competes in Lincoln-Douglas debate, to describe a typical speech and debate tournament, he said, “How would I describe the existential nightmare that is a crowded cafeteria full of exhausted kids eating stale bagels brutally early in the morning anxiously waiting for their rounds to start?”

Stale bagels aside, the Speech and Debate team has been hard at work this season, recently ending a string of five weekend-long tournaments in a row throughout January and early February, and they are currently preparing for the upcoming state tournament this weekend, March 2-3.

By the time they compete at state and finally the National Catholic Forensic League Tournament in late May, they will have gone to fifteen tournaments this year.

Last year, Lovett had two state champions (Katie Krantz in Original Oratory, and Kailyn Gibson in Program Oral Interpretation), so the team is looking forward to competing at state again. Lovett has a wide range of events being represented at state this year: Extemp, Oratory, Impromptu, Informative Speaking, Lincoln-Douglas, and Public Forum debate.

The team has grown a lot since last year, with many new underclassmen joining. Ms. Waterman, who has been the head coach for seven years, said “We have some very eager, active freshmen and they’re open-minded, versatile, and trying different events. Many of them compete in multiple events which is great, and we’re really looking forward to their continued involvement with the team.”

As far as team goals, Ms. Waterman said she’d like to see more kids at some of the speech events. “I’d like to get kids who are actors to put together some dramatic pieces so they realize that being in plays and performing in the interpretive events are not mutually exclusive things,” she said.

One freshman, Laurel Blaske, is competing in impromptu and duo interpretation this year. In impromptu, competitors are given an envelope with three topics that they have to choose from, and spend two minutes planning out a five minute speech without any notes.

In one of the her impromptu rounds, the theme was “Hallmark Moments” and Laurel said “We walked in, and our options were literally greeting cards!” Laurel said that “Another time the theme was fonts, so the prompts were the name of the font, written in that font, and we had to talk about them!”

Laurel also does duo interpretation, where competitors act out ten-minute plays with a partner.

Jenny Chen, a sophomore, found out about the team by taking Ms. Waterman’s Speech and Debate class last year, during her first semester of ninth grade. She decided to join the team this year, and she’s loved every moment of it.

Junior Peter Kessler has been competing in Lincoln-Douglas debate since his freshman year. In LD, two debaters compete against each other discussing the morality of certain topics and arguing a position. He added, “You can reset the framework for what you value in each round, so that makes it fun.”

Peter likes debate because it’s competitive, and the topics are engaging. “You can win for talking about something interesting, so it’s a win-win,” he said, adding, “Or actually a win-lose, I guess, if you lose.”

Emma Ellis, a senior, talked about her experience with Public Forum debate, which is a partner debate that focuses on current events. Each pair argues either the PRO or CON of that month’s topic. “It’s really fun to hear these crazy arguments the other team gives and try to figure out how to respond to them. The most fun is trying to break them down logically,” she said.

A recent topic Emma argued was whether or not the United States should expand background checks on gun sales, and another was whether or not South Korea should have more nuclear defense systems against North Korea. Her topic for state is whether the authorization of military force granted in 2001 after 9/11 is giving the president too much power now and whether or not that should be reduced.

Emma remembered that during her freshman year, she didn’t really see herself as a debater. She admitted she was nervous since she didn’t like public speaking and thought it would be intimidating. However, she soon realized she and her partner would be debating the other team in a classroom with a judge, so there was nothing really to worry about, other than her argument of course.

Now, Emma makes up one-half of one of Lovett’s top PF teams, and according to Ms. Waterman, she and her partner, senior Anna Miele, “can hold their own against just about anybody.”

Dylan Shapiro, a junior and the captain of the Speech team, does “extemp,” which stands for Extemporaneous Speaking. In this event, each competitor draws three topics from an envelope in the beginning of a round, and chooses one of the current events topics, taking thirty minutes to plan a seven minute speech to deliver without notes.

Mr. Newman, one of the coaches, says extemp is one of the more challenging events because the competitors could be asked about any topic in the news, from any part of the world. Although they get 30 minutes to prepare, if they aren’t already familiar with the issues, whether it be the use of American military in the world or Russian politics, it’s going to be very difficult. And additionally, after their research, they have to ensure their speech is clear, well-organized and defended with evidence, quoting journals like The Economist or The New York Times.

Jenny Chen, a sophomore, competes in Informative Speaking. In this event, students write a ten-minute speech on any topic and explain how it impacts society, and typically keep the same speech for the entire year. It’s a relatively new event, so, according to Jenny, it’s easier to get higher placements. “This season, my speech is on the common cold,” Jenny said.

Jenny likes the experience of going up and talking to people, which is something she says she has typically struggled with. “But when you have a prepared speech and you know how you should perform, then the skill becomes a lot easier to you and kind of opens you up,” Jenny said.

Junior Caroline Stubbs does Original Oratory, which is slightly different from Informative Speaking. In OO, competitors still write a ten-minute speech that they memorize and perform, but Caroline said, “Typically the speech is a comment on society, and you’re trying to persuade your audience that it needs to be addressed with specific solutions. I’m doing my speech on mindfulness this year.”

This year, Lovett is bringing between 12 to 18 kids to the National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament in Washington, D.C. over Memorial Day Weekend. Emma Ellis, who went to NCFL Nationals last year, and who will be going again, said she looks forward to Nationals because of the high level of competition.

Emma added that even though Nationals can sound intimidating, the tournament is almost less stressful than local competitions. Since it’s such a high level of competition, it’s more of just a learning experience and a chance to meet people. Senior Grace Harrison, who used to do debate, chimed in, “At Nationals, you don’t care about doing well as much.”

This will be senior PF debater Naina Murthy’s third time going to NCFL Nationals. She said, “I’m really excited for nationals, because it will be my last time debating.”

Even though some of the most serious students on the team are ambitious about competing and qualifying for big national tournaments, Ms. Waterman said that there are different levels of participation, and she wants everyone to have the opportunity to try it out.

“There are kids that are trying to go to multiple national tournaments each year,” she said, “but we also have a lot of kids that have a great time just going to two tournaments per semester. We have multiple tournaments on our schedule that are designed for newcomers, especially first semester, and we encourage anyone just to give it a shot.”

Naina Murthy has been the debate team president for the past two years. She helps the underclassmen figure out how to write their cases, how to form an argument and counter-argument, how to write down their opponents’ argument if they’re talking really fast, how to ask questions in the rebuttal, and also teaches them speaking tips for their rounds.

When I asked about season highlights, Ms. Waterman mentioned that sophomore Sloane Saxon is the runner-up second-year state champion. This means she went to the final round in second-year Lincoln Douglas debate, “which is probably the hardest form of debate. She did a great job getting there because you have to compete against so many people before you even get to the final round,” she added.

Caroline Stubbs has been competing on the team for three years now, and loves it because it gives her something to work towards, and helps her in every class, notably in her speaking capabilities. She added that all of her friends are on the team, and it’s a great way for her to get to know people in her event around the state and even around the country.

Emma mentioned that the team isn’t just the students. “The coaches are just as much a part of the team as the other kids are. Ms. Waterman, Mr. Newman, Mr. Abraham, Dr. Kenyon...and sometimes Mr. Rau will even come back and help out. They’re amazing.”

Naina has loved being a part of Lovett’s team so much that she hopes to continue in college, since some universities have debate teams that travel and compete as well. If not, she said she definitely wants to judge high school tournaments and continue her involvement in the sport.

Dylan Shapiro said there really is an event for anybody, “whether you’re more of a drama person you can do some interp events, or if you’re more analytical there’s extemp or even debate, or if you’re just someone who can speak off the cuff you might want to do impromptu.”

For anyone considering joining the team next year, Emma said, “It’s a lot of work, but so worth it in the end!” She added that the social aspect is also one of her favorite parts of being on the team, “Sometimes tournaments can be almost 12 hours long, so you get to spend a lot of time with your team. And the sleep deprivation makes it all the more interesting, haha,” she said.

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