Free State debate team wins prestigious award for performance at national 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.

The speech and debate team for Free State High School was recognized last week as one of the best high school debate programs in the country.

As part of the National Speech and Debate Association’s national tournament, which was conducted virtually from June 14 through June 20, the Free State program was one of 20 schools across the country recognized with the School of Excellence in Debate award. The award recognized the program’s teams for their performances at the tournament, coach Kelly Thompson said.

“The school award is the first school award ever won at the national tournament in the history of our program,” Thompson said in an email, noting the students who earned the award for the school will all return to the program next school year. “We could not be more proud of what they’ve accomplished, and could not be more excited to see what 2020-2021 holds for them!”

The tournament — which included more than 6,500 students competing for more than 1,400 schools — was originally scheduled to be held in New Mexico this summer, but was moved to an online virtual tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic. A total of 16 students from Free State and Lawrence High School qualified for the event, the Journal-World has reported.

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

One of the events canceled because of the pandemic was 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 still gave the team a chance for success this year.

“I am incredibly proud of the work that our students put in during the spring, despite the difficult circumstances and despite the disappointment of not being able to travel to the national tournament in New Mexico,” Thompson said.

Highlighted results:

• In the policy debate competitions, both Free State teams advanced to the 10th round, placing both of them in the top 35 nationally. Sophomores Serena Rupp and John Marshall finished 26th, and juniors Ethan Harris and Jack Bellemere finished 32nd. As a school, the team had the sixth-best performance.

• In the informative speaker competition, Free State senior Sivani Badrivenkata reached the elimination rounds to finish 39th nationally, the highest finish from Kansas. Badrivenkata was also recognized as one of 75 students across the country who qualified for the national tournament all four years of high school.

• In the program of oral interpretation competition, Free State junior Emily Bial placed 62nd in the country and first among all performers from Kansas.

• In the duo interpretation competition, Free State seniors Alina Matejkowski and Ian Haas placed second among teams from Kansas and finished the tournament in the top 100 nationally.

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