16 Lawrence students to compete in virtual national speech and debate tournament

photo by: National Speech and Debate Association

The 2020 National Speech and Debate Tournament, which will feature members of the debate teams from both Free State and Lawrence high schools, will take place online June 14-20, 2020.

Lawrence students will soon participate in the national speech and debate tournament from the comfort of their homes.

Members of the debate teams for both Free State and Lawrence high schools will virtually compete in the National Speech and Debate Association’s tournament next week. Kelly Thompson, coach for Free State’s team, said 15 of the team’s members would participate in 11 of the tournament’s events. At LHS, coach Jeff Plinsky said one of the team members would participate in one event.

Many of the debate teams’ tournaments this spring were canceled as schools were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, which took away chances for students to qualify for the national tournament through competition. Instead, this year’s qualifiers were selected by a panel of Kansas debate coaches, Thompson said in an email to the Journal-World.

“In some ways that makes it a higher honor to me,” Thompson said. “The coaches we compete against every weekend recognized this team’s greatness, and that feels very special.”

The national tournament was not immune to the virus, as it too was scheduled to be held in person this summer. But rather than canceling the competition altogether, the National Speech and Debate Association said on its website that it wanted to continue its annual tournament through virtual avenues for the students who find comfort in the competition.

“During times of crisis, the National Tournament’s mission is even more essential,” the organization said on its website. “The National Tournament’s platform allows students to share their stories and speak up on the issues they care about, and that platform cannot be abandoned.”

One of the events canceled because of the pandemic includes the Kansas state speech tournament, of which Free State team members are the defending 6A champions. Despite the lost chance to defend the title, the national tournament will give the team’s outgoing seniors one last chance to compete for their school.

“It’s unfortunate the kids did not get a chance to formally defend their title, but I could not be more proud of their accomplishments or of how they’ve prepared for the national tournament since we have not been in school,” Thompson said. “A lot of these (students) are graduated seniors still working daily to compete for their school.”

The national tournament is scheduled to begin on Sunday and end on Saturday, June 20. Lawrence residents will also have the ability to watch the students compete through online live streams of the tournament. Access to the live streams can be found on the tournament’s website, speechanddebate.org/live/.

The Lawrence students competing in the tournament:

• Sivani Badrivenkata, senior, Free State;

• Jack Bellemere, junior, Free State;

• Emily Bial, junior, Free State;

• Matthew Brandenburger, senior, Free State;

• Audri Gutierrez, junior, Free State;

• Ian Haas, senior, Free State;

• Ethan Harris, junior, Free State;

• Abbey Hossler, sophomore, Free State;

• Tim Huffman, junior, Free State;

• Rita Joseph, sophomore, Free State;

• John Marshall, sophomore, Free State;

• Alina Matejkowski, senior, Free State;

• Drew Raney, junior, Free State;

• Jenna Riggins, sophomore, LHS;

• Serena Rupp, sophomore, Free State;

• Hugh Sidabutar, senior, Free State.

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