This article originally appeared in the winter 2015 Harker Quarterly.
The speech and debate team is off to an amazing start in the 2015-16 competition season, with scores of students already attending tournaments. Perhaps most impressive, the team has experienced success across the entire program, with many awards won by young students in their first or second year of competition.
Broad-Based Team Success
Each division of the large speech and debate team has had notable accomplishments this year. Nearly every trip has produced multiple awards while helping students hone their skills.
In public forum debate, Abhinav Ketineni, Eesha Chona, Sorjo Banerjee, Jasmine Liu and Suraj Jagadeesh, grade 12; Alexander Lam and Emaad Raghib, grade 11; Emily Chen and Karena Kong, grade 10; and Cindy Wang, Clarissa Wang, Ashwin Rammohan and Erana Wan, grade 9, have all won awards in tournament competition.
In congressional debate, juniors Aditya Dhar and Michael Tseitlin, and freshman Jason Huang have placed highly.
In Lincoln-Douglas debate, Karen Qi, grade 12; Srivatsav Pyda, grade 11; and grade 9 students Neha Tallapragada, Kelly Shen, Satvik Narasimhan and Suraj Pakala have experienced success and won awards at tournaments.
In speech, Nikhil Dharmaraj, grade 9, and juniors Divya Rajasekharan, Sana Aladin and Andrew Tierno have performed well and won awards.
And in policy debate, Panny Shan, grade 12; Molly Wancewicz and Anika Jain, grade 11; and Megan Huynh, Jacob Ohana and Amandeep Ahluwalia, grade 10, have won awards.
The middle school speech and debate team began its competition season in November at the San Francisco Middle School Fall Classic. Avi Gulati, Jason Pan, Vibha Arramreddy, Annie Ma, Cynthia Chen and Nash Melisso, grade 8; Krishay Mukhija, Zain Awais and Andrew Sun, grade 7; and Rishi Jain, grade 6, all received gold medals for their excellent performances.
At the same event, silver medals were won by Jeremy Ding, Reiya Das and Sachin Shah, grade 8; Sidra Xu, Aditi Vinod and Akshay Manglik, grade 7; and Anshul Reddy, Arnav Jain, Aimee Wang, Alina Yuan and Akhilesh Chegu, grade 6.
This broad-based success from students in grades 6-12 is noteworthy. Speech and debate coach Greg Achten noted that while the whole team has excelled, he is particularly impressed with the early season awards won by the speech team, noting, “So far this year, four different speech students have won tournament championships. That is already more tournament championships in a single season than our speech team has ever won and the first semester is not even over.”
New coach Sandra Berkowitz also has been very pleased with the success and work ethic of team members, saying, “As a new teacher and coach at Harker, I am delighted to be a part of a strong speech and debate program that is the epitome of an inspired learning environment. I am impressed with the commitment our debaters and speakers have to honing their craft, and to building their individual argumentation and persuasion skill sets while at the same time fostering an overall Harker team spirit.”
Young Debaters Doing Well
One of the most impressive features of the team’s early success is how many of the awards have been won by middle school students, freshmen and sophomores. “The middle school program had a fantastic first tournament of the season,” said coach Karina Momary. “It was great to see so many young students grow in their confidence levels in presenting and defending their ideas against their peers.
The numerous gold and silver medals our students brought home is a strong reflection of their hard work.”
Momary’s work preparing the middle school students for tournaments also has paid dividends this year as alumni of the middle school program have already started achieving success in the varsity division. At the Holy Cross tournament in New Orleans, freshmen Cindy Wang and Clarissa Wang reached the quarter nals in the varsity division of public forum.
At the St. Francis tournament, sophomore Megan Huynh was named a top ve speaker in the varsity division of policy debate and freshman Neha Tallapragada was the top overall speaker in varsity Lincoln-Douglas debate. At the Mission San Jose speech tournament, freshman Nikhil Dharmaraj was named the champion in original oratory.
Speech and debate department chair and coach Jenny Alme noted that, “The overwhelming success of our younger students, especially those who are competing and winning awards in the varsity division, points toward a very bright future for our program. It is, of course, wonderful when our juniors and seniors do well, but it is really special when freshmen and sophomores win awards in varsity. The school should be proud of their successes.”
Looking ahead, the team has several more months of regular season competition before the state and national tournaments in the late spring. An interesting new tournament is being added this year. NASA and The George Washington University collaborated to create the inaugural NASA Astrobiology Debate Tournament, which will be held in February 2016. The tournament will allow students to do scientific research about the ethics involved in the discovery of life on other planets. This unique opportunity will allow students to combine their passions for science and debate and promises to be an exciting event.