Debate students participate in online national tournament June 14-20


Courtesy of Caroline Ragland

Qualifying debate students spent the past few months preparing for the week-long tournament.

The week-long National Speech and Debate Tournament began Sunday, June 14 and will continue through Saturday, June 20. The traditionally in-person tournament, hosted by the National Speech and Debate Association, was moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic and will be live-streamed.

Senior Caroline Ragland and junior Josiah Kinsky advanced as a team at National Qualifiers Feb. 22 in Cross-Examination Debate. CX consists of two teams promoting a different side of a topic: affirmative or negative. This year’s CX topic covered reducing U.S. firearm sales to foreign countries. Ragland said she devoted around seven hours per week to practice.

“I just make a conscious decision to work on it,” Ragland said. “Instead of scrolling through my phone at night, I work on speech; instead of sitting down and watching TV, I work on CX. I’m mainly researching during that time, but it’s worth it. It sounds like a lot, but when you just research 20 minutes at a time, you can get a lot of work done.”

We each have our strengths, but we also depend on each other to be successful.

— Caroline Ragland, 12

Debate participants also attended after-school meets. As both partners speak twice in a round, speech practice is around half of the preparatory work devoted to CX, Ragland said. 

“I’m the first speaker,” Ragland said. “I communicate across our point. Josiah argues our point. It works well that way. We each have our strengths, but we also depend on each other to be successful. I’m not great at arguing, but I am a good speaker.”

Debating online presents unique circumstances and experiences which differ from in-person debating, Ragland said. While competing face-to-face, teams are able to communicate and share evidence with opponents.

“The online format is way different,” Ragland said. “Instead of competing in the same room with my opponents, sitting next to my debate partner and being able to easily read the judge’s expressions and face, we’re staring at a grainy picture of each other.”

2020 graduate Erin Bell will compete in International Extemporaneous Speaking. Also known as Extemp., the speeches contain citations to news sources and are memorized. Speakers aim to create a speech that is seven minutes long.

This deals with current events happening around the globe,” Bell said. “At a normal tournament, I would walk into a drawing room and draw three topics. Each topic has a question. I choose which question I want to answer, and I spend the next 30 minutes with access to news sources, writing a speech. That’s the normal way you would give an extemp. speech. “

Regardless of whether or not speakers advance, competitors give three speeches per round. 

“We’re going to be sitting there with the cameras on,” Bell said. “Then they [judges] are going to privately message us when we draw. They are going to give us three options, and we respond with what option we want. Then we spend 30 minutes coming up with that speech and give it to a panel of three judges afterwards.”

I just hope I give some speeches I’m proud of.

— Erin Bell, 2020 graduate

The tournament was originally scheduled to be held in Albuquerque, N.M. In the online tournament, each event will have a specific day of competition devoted to it. 

“At first, they’ll go through the preliminary rounds for nationals, and that’s gonna take the longest,” Bell said. “After they weed people out, that’s when they move on to the higher-ups, and so they’ll just keep on closing in the group.”

Bell said she is excited to finish her high school career with debate.

“I just hope I give some speeches I’m proud of,” Bell said. “If I advance, that’s nice, but I’m not putting all of my eggs in that basket. It’s kind of irrelevant at this point, because I’ve got a lot to look forward to. I really hope Caroline and Josiah do excellently. They’re wonderful debaters, and it’d be really neat to see them advance as well.”