By Jenny Alme and Greg Achten
It’s been a fabulous past few months for Harker’s speech and debate teams! Although the bulk of the speech and debate tournament season runs from September through March, many students qualify for end-of-year national championship tournaments in May and June. Both the middle and upper school teams were very successful at these tournaments.
Top School Honors
In May, the upper school team was recognized by the Tournament of Champions (TOC) as a School of Excellence. This award, sponsored by the National Speech & Debate Association, is given to the team with the most success in all TOC events. The TOC is one of the most challenging tournaments upper school students compete in, so this was one of the biggest accomplishments of the entire season. Harker reached this remarkable achievement by advancing to elimination rounds in all four debate events: Lincoln-Doulas, policy, public forum and congressional. Most schools are thrilled to have students advance in a single event; Harker was the only school to have students advance in more than two. Coaches Greg Achten, Carol Green and Jenny Alme shared in celebrating this special award.
Similarly, in June, the middle school team set a record by winning the Overall School of Excellence Award for the fourth time! The award, given by the National Speech & Debate Association, is presented to the top three teams in the country. It is the highest honor a middle school program can achieve. Karina Momary, middle school coach, said she is incredibly proud of all of her competitors.
These awards reflect the hard work and success of individual Harker students and also the overall strength of the program.
Outstanding Individual Achievements and Service
Many students also experienced great success in individual events. At the National Speech & Debate Association National Tournament in Dallas in June, Madhu Nori ’15 reached the quarterfinals in original oratory, finishing among the top 28 orators in the nation. At the same tournament, Nikhil Kishore ’15 and David Lin ’15 finished in the top 30 teams in the nation in public forum debate.
At the middle school Speech & Debate Association National Tournament, also in Dallas, many Harker students earned top honors and awards. In declamation, Nikki Solanki, now grade 8, and Arusha Patil, now grade 7, were both quarterfinalists. In dramatic interpretation, Riya Gupta, now grade 9, was a quarterfinalist, and Solanki placed sixth in the nation. In impromptu speaking, Nikhil Dharmaraj, now grade 9, finished fourth in the nation. In original oratory, Gupta, Dharmaraj and Avi Gulati, now grade 8, were all semifinalists. In storytelling, Dharmaraj finished third.
The strong showing by the speech team members was matched by the excellent results from the debaters. In policy debate, Jai Bahri, now grade 8, and Julia Biswas, now grade 7, were double octafinalists, as were Andy Lee and Jason Lin, both grade 7. Maddie Huynh, now grade 8, and Anusha Kuppahally, now grade 9, were semifinalists. In Lincoln-Douglas debate Annie Ma, now grade 8, was a double octafinalist. In public forum, Cindy Wang, now grade 9, and Clarissa Wang, now grade 9, were quarterfinalists. In Congressional Debate, Jason Huang, now grade 9, was a finalist.
These strong efforts were significantly aided by the coaching assistance of recent Harker alumni and current upper school students. Ayush Midha ’15, Pranav Sharma ’15 and Zarek Drozda, now grade 12 gave up two weeks of their summer to help the middle school team prepare for the tournament. They assisted students during a weeklong work session then traveled to Dallas with the team to help coach the students during the event. Nitya Mani ’15 also helped out during the work week.
Momary and speech coach Marjorie Hazeltine worked tirelessly to prepare the students for competition, supervise the students and assistant coaches, and coordinate this highly successful trip.
After the conclusion of the season, rather than taking a break from speech and debate, many of our middle and upper school students spent the summer preparing for the coming season at speech and debate camps across the nation. Students attended camps, ranging from one to seven weeks, at Georgetown University, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, to name just a few. Also many Harker students attended the summer speech and debate camp hosted by Harker.
During summer debate camps, students study the theory and practice of debate, learning from instructors from prestigious college and high school debate programs around the nation. In addition to valuable speech and debate experience, students also get to experience college first hand, often living in dormitories, studying in college classrooms and getting a taste of what college life is like.
“Debate camp is one of the most intellectually enriching experiences a student can undertake,” said Alme, Harker debate chair. “I have seen thousands of students grow as debaters, researchers, independent thinkers and responsible global citizens. Because the nature of debate camp allows for students to immerse themselves in the study and practice of competition, there really is no substitute for attending camp.”
Though the camp schedule is rigorous, often involving long days and weekend work, the students are also able to learn more about the college campuses they visit and occasionally have great cultural experiences. For instance, several Harker students at the Georgetown Debate Institute were taken by camp faculty to the U.S. Supreme Court for the announcement of the historic gay marriage decision Obergefell vs. Hodges. The students were at the court for the reading of the decision and got to go inside the chambers. Debate camp allowed these students to be there for a truly historical event and it is an experience those students will likely never forget.
At the end of the 2014-15 school year, Carol Green stepped down as communication studies department chair to take a position teaching history at Harker. Alme was named department chair and Sandra Berkowitz was brought in to coach the public forum and congressional debate team. Berkowitz has extensive experience coaching debate at the high school level and also has taught at the collegiate level at the University of Maine and most recently at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. With her wealth of teaching and coaching experience, along with the return of Alme, Momary and Achten, the team is in great hands and looks forward to another successful season.