Fall 2013 has been a very successful semester for Harker debaters at both the upper and middle schools, as evidenced by strong performances at the many events students have attended since the start of the school year.
Public Forum debate has been a strong event for Harker this fall. At the Grapevine Classic in Texas in mid-September, Vamsi Gadiraju and Nikhil Kishore, both grade 11, reached the Elite 8 after being undefeated in the preliminaries. Kishore finished as the fourth overall speaker. Juniors Andrew Jin and David Lin were undefeated at a National Forensic League tournament at Leland High School on Oct. 19, earning them a spot in the state qualifier. Then Milpitas High School hosted a league tournament Nov. 9-10, in which both Gadiraju and Neil Khemani, grade 12, were undefeated and secured spots in the state qualifier.
Meanwhile, juniors Aadyot Bhatnagar and Avid Wadhwa won the Minneapple Debate Tournament at Apple Valley High School in Minnesota Nov. 1-2, with Jin and Lin reaching the semifinals. Sorjo Banerjee and Mohnish Shah, both grade 10, reached the Elite 8, while Kishore and Gadiraju made it to the top 32. Bhatnagar and Lin were named the third- and fourth-place speakers, respectively.
Harker also had several strong performances in Policy Debate, with juniors Ayush Midha and Arya Kaul reaching the octofinals at a mid-September tournament at Wake Forest University. They were also finalists at the USC Round Robin, winning all 14 possible ballots in the preliminary stage, and Kaul was named the top speaker. Panny Shan, grade 10, and Rahul Shukla, grade 9, were double octofinalists along with the team of Midha and Kaul at the Notre Dame/Harvard Westlake tournament at Notre Dame High School and Harvard-Westlake Upper School in early November. Midha was named the ninth-place speaker.
In Congressional Debate, Alex Lam, grade 9, placed third and was recognized as the top grade 9 student at the Crestian Tradition tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in early October. Saachi Jain, grade 12, placed fourth, with grade 9 students Aditya Dhar and Misha Tseitlin reaching the finals. At a league tournament at Presentation High School, Tseitlin placed first in his chamber.
Another strong category for Harker was Lincoln-Douglas, in which seniors Srikar Pyda and Pranav Reddy were quarterfinalists at the Greenhill Fall Classic in Texas in late September. Pyda and Reddy were also double octofinalist and semifinalist, respectively, at a mid-October tournament at Presentation High School. At a tournament at St. Mark’s School in Dallas, Reddy was a finalist and also was named the top speaker in a field of 120 debaters. Karen Qi, grade 10, was a double octofinalist at the late-October Meadows Invitational in Las Vegas and an octofinalist at the Harvard-Westlake tournament in early November.
Notable achievements for individual events included junior Rohith Kuditipudi’s fifth-place finish in Extemporaneous Speaking at Crestian (after scoring perfectly in the preliminaries) and Divya Rajasekharan, grade 9, taking fifth in Dramatic Interpretation at tournaments at the University of the Pacific in late October and at Milpitas High School in early November.
At a late-September tournament at California State University, Long Beach, seventh grader Nikhil Dharmaraj reached the Open Oratory semifinals.
The following month, middle school debaters participated in the very first tournament held by the Bay Area Middle School Speech & Debate Association on Oct. 5. In Lincoln-Douglas, grade 8 students Sagar Rao and Liza Turchinsky both finished with records of 3-1, while Serena Lu, grade 8, went undefeated. Public Forum saw five teams finish 3-1: Eileen Li and Sejal Krishnan, grade 6; Michael Tang and Kenneth Liou, both grade 6; Naveen Mirapuri and Andrew Cheplyansky, both grade 6; Avi Gulati and Madison Huynh, grade 6; and eighth graders Kevin Xu and Derek Kuo. Tiffany Wong and Anjay Saklecha, both grade 7, placed first and second in Speech, respectively.
Just before Thanksgiving, debaters headed to a tournament at Santa Clara University, where Millie Lin and Aliesa Bahri, both grade 8, reached the elimination rounds in Policy Debate. Gulati placed second in Novice Dramatic Interpretation in his first tournament for this event. Wong placed well in Varsity Humorous Interpretation, coming in at seventh in an event filled with students in grades 11 and 12. Seventh grader Kelly Shen, meanwhile, placed fourth in Novice Humorous Interpretation, and Akshay Ravoor, grade 7 and Saklecha took fifth in Novice Duo Interpretation.
Aside from competition, middle school debate also has been working hard on community efforts. Each month, a busload of middle school forensics students visits the upper school to work with upper school students in preparation for upcoming tournaments. Sessions have included practice debates, case edits and script work, with upper school coaches and students staying late into the afternoon to help the middle school debaters. In addition, upper school students have been going to the middle school campus after school hour to attend speech and debate practices.
In early December, an intramural middle school debate tournament was held in which more than 60 students participated in a total of 37 practice debates and 42 speeches, with more than 40 Harker parents and upper school students volunteering as judges.
Faculty from other departments also have joined the cause, with middle school history teachers Jonathan Brusco, Cyrus Merrill and Andrew Keller giving talks at lunch time on topics such as the National Security Agency and compulsory voting. Middle school librarian Bernie Morrissey also has created research guides for debate topics. English teacher and debate coach Marjorie Hazeltine spends two days a week during lunch and after school working with speech students to prepare for tournaments. Harker parents are also involved, volunteering to help with event logistics, acting as chaperones and participating as judges at many tournaments.