Free State speech and forensics team qualifies for national tournaments as it prepares for state title defense

Members of Free State High School’s speech and forensics team are heading to national tournaments once again. The team will also be looking to retain its state title next month.

Kelly Thompson, Free State’s speech and debate coach, recently told the Journal-World in an email that the team’s students qualified for 17 events at the 2021 National Individual Events Tournament of Champions. The students qualified for the tournament through their individual performances at invitational tournaments throughout the season. The event will be May 4-8.

Thompson said that this year’s number of events was the most in school history, surpassing the previous record of 14 in 2019.

“We’d like to think this would have been the third consecutive record-breaking performance, if the 2020 season had been completed,” Thompson said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic canceling the remainder of the season.

Meanwhile, Lawrence High School’s team did not qualify for the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions, but did qualify for 10 events at the National Catholic Forensic League Grand National tournament, coach Jeff Plinsky said.

Additionally, both schools this week are competing in the National Speech and Debate Association qualification tournament for Eastern Kansas, which concludes on Saturday. Eight Free State students and three LHS students have already qualified for the National Speech and Debate Association national tournament, which will be held virtually in June, their coaches said. Both schools will be looking to qualify more this week. Last year, Free State sent 15 to the National Speech and Debate Association tournament, while LHS sent one, the Journal-World reported.

The Free State team will also be looking to stand out in the 6A state tournament on May 1. This year’s tournament will be the first state competition since Free State won the title in 2019. The 2020 event was canceled because of the pandemic.

“We really thought we had a team that could potentially repeat as state champions a season ago; and it was sad, especially for the seniors, that we did not get that opportunity,” senior squad vice president Emily Bial said in the email. “Our goal is to be able to accomplish that goal this spring.”

LHS is not listed as a team participating in the state tournament, according to the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

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