Speech and Debate Attends First In-Person Tournament

Raising his placard in a room full of representatives watching his every move, Representative Danial Syed makes his way to the front of the classroom. The sea of familiar faces outside of a Zoom session, masked, siat in anticipation at the first in-person round of the debate season. The rules were the same, the same three-minute speeches were given at a tournament Kerr Speech and Debate has attended for years. However, students across Houston have been waiting to compete at the Memorial Tournament.

Kerr Speech and Debate competed in its first in-person tournament at Memorial Highschool on September 25 and 26 after being on a year hiatus. In the Varsity Congressional Debate, Sheila Nguyen received 9th place, Al Nahiyan received 11th place, and Joshua Romero placed 7th.  In Humorous Interpretation Diego Salgado, Abigail Nguyen, Chikanyima Brown-Nkemdirim advanced to the Semifinals and Cameron Killi won 4th place. In Novice Extemporaneous Speaking, Aidan Ngo received 3rd place. Additionally, Joshua Romero and Al Nahiyan both qualified for the Texas Forensics Association Tournament. 

Senior and junior members were excited to return to the in-person environment as they prepared new and old members for their first in-person tournament experience. 

“What makes this so significant is that the last time we had a physical like in-person tournament was almost like, a year and a half ago. So it’s very symbolic… of returning to  … the normalcy that we had two years ago,” club Treasurer Joshua Romero said.

For the last year, Speech and Debate has been entirely online. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual tournaments were unheard of, forcing innovation to preserve speech and debate; utilizing Zoom, Discord, and YouTube along with the introduction of the National Student Speech and Debate Classroom to hold rounds and view pre-recorded performances.

“…I’ve judged for almost three decades, and seen a lot of changes in the evolution of the event, of course, not as much changes, perhaps in the past two years,” said coach Derrick Davis.

While students were still able to compete virtually, the experience for many was not the same.

“Really missed traveling, I think that was one of my favorite aspects of Speech and Debate before we went virtual,” said Junior Sheila Nguyen. “And I’m really looking forward to actually being in a real room with people again, because there’s a lot more intensity, and you can really feel the hype of going to a tournament, when you’re able to interact and you get to see your opponent. And you really get to project yourself in that room. That was a struggle last year.” 

While the competing aspect of this activity has remained true to its core, Speech and Debate goes beyond what happens inside a round or chamber. It fosters a unique community and connections for students and teachers alike, from different schools to different states.

“I’ve worked with or have known, you know, just so much of Speech and Debate is…relational,” said Coach Davis. “And a lot of it is building these networks and these relationships that have been frozen in time. It seems like you can, you know, my normal communication on emails are hope, to quotation marks, ‘see you soon.’ It’ll be the first time to see some good friends and comrades for two decades.”

The Memorial Speech and Debate Tournament was the start of many new members’ experiences. while for older members, it was a return to normalcy. 

“You know, a lot of coaches are probably more worried than me, but I expect good things. And that’s typically what happens.” Coach Davis said in confidence.