It was exciting to see approximately 400 students from 23 Massachusetts schools actively using the open spaces of the new high school to gather and prepare for their competitions at the St. Nick Showdown on December 2. This was the first time the Arlington High School Speech and Debate Team had volunteered to host a regular season tournament and Team advisor and AHS Social Studies teacher Sarah Stoe states, “For our first go at it, I would say that this tournament was a huge success.”
Member schools across the state host Massachusetts Speech and Debate League (MSDL) tournaments on Saturdays from October to April. Each one includes a number of different speech and debate events. Consisting of five rounds of competition, the St. Nick Showdown is one of the smaller events in the League season. Senior AHS Team captains Isobel Masoudian and Clara Schneider coordinated with league official Paul Wexler and Ms. Stoe in the weeks leading up to the tournament.
The individual competitions were held in classrooms on the first four floors of the high school in the STEAM and humanities wings, and competitors received round assignments throughout the day. Each participant competes against others from all over the state, and gets a ranking based upon their performance. While Ms. Stoe noticed that a few visitors had some initial trouble navigating the school, AHS student volunteers were present to direct lost guests and things moved smoothly after the second competition.
Logistics for tournament rounds are handled by Tabroom, an online management system hosted and supported by the National Speech & Debate Association. Each classroom housed either two competitors or two two-person teams and one judge. The AHS group provided Tab with a list of available rooms and a schedule was created. The morning began with the competitors gathering in the Campus Center, where AHS parent volunteers offered food and refreshments for purchase. The first “blast” of the morning came around 9:00 am, and this let both students and judges know where they should report. After finishing their rounds, the students went back to the Campus Center to wait for the judges’ decisions and feedback.
Arlington had eighteen students competing in a variety of different speech and debate events, as well as student coordinators and volunteers working to make sure the tournament ran smoothly. The Arlington Speech and Debate Team specializes in Lincoln Douglas and Public Forum Debate, and has a growing number of speech competitors in Group Discussion, Impromptu Speaking, Original Oratory, and Poetry. At the tournament on December 2, the Team had its best showings in the first four of the categories mentioned. The Team was pleasantly surprised that out of 23 schools in attendance, AHS received the fifth place sweepstakes award for having high placing entries across all events. Individual success is generally seen at each tournament the Team takes part in, but this is the first time the group has received a sweepstakes award. This demonstrates the group’s growing depth.
Team captains report that the Novice Lincoln-Douglas debaters were a big contributor to the team’s success that day, including Claire Agerbak (1st), Asher Saff (2nd), Elliot Lane (5th), Anna Hodous (6th), and Ryan Tyler-Suzuki (state bid). AHS Public Forum debaters and Speech team competitors placed highly at this tournament too. Freshmen Aly Lay and Spencer Carman placed 5th in varsity Public Forum debate, sophomore Brigid McNealy placed 3rd in Novice Poetry Reading and 2nd with Yujia Wang in Duo Improv, and sophomore Maya Venkatesh placed 3rd in Original Oratory, a speech writing event.
The Speech and Debate season ramps up during the winter with tournaments almost every weekend and the AHS Team sends anyone who wants to compete. The St. Nick Showdown marked the beginning of a three-weekend consecutive streak of tournaments. Most recently, AHS competed at the Lexington Winter Invitational, a National Circuit tournament drawing competitors from across the country. On January 20 the team traveled to the Boston Latin School to compete in the Keith West Memorial Tournament where they saw a lot of success.
- Lincoln-Douglas (LD) Co-captains Isobel Maksoudian and Clara Schneider placed first and sixth respectively in Varsity Lincoln-Douglas Debate, and LD debaters Elliot Lane and Claire Agerback placed second and fourth in Novice.
- Speech Co-captain Blake Lyman placed second in Group Discussion
- Public Forum partners Tobin Pacheco and Leon van Leeuwen qualified for the final round in Varsity.
Students also competed in Duo Improv and Original Oratory. On February 3rd, the club will head over to Concord Carlisle to compete in the national qualifier tournament.
Additionally, the Team’s Outreach Program with OMS debate is going strong! High school volunteers visit the OMS club’s meetings, presenting slideshows and leading games or drills. The AHS group hopes to make last year’s small informal, Parliamentary debate tournament between the high school and middle school debate clubs a tradition. The AHS team also coordinated the participation of OMS students in Big Questions (BQ) Debate at the St. Nick Showdown. In the weeks leading up to this tournament, the high school students taught OMS debaters all the basics of BQ and ran practice rounds.
Since the beginning of the Outreach Program, the number of OMS debaters has more than tripled. Last year's leaders of OMS debate Aly Lay and Spencer Carman are now members of the AHS team and they have seen competitive success in Varsity Public Forum Debate. Many eighth graders will follow in their footsteps, joining AHS debate once they reach high school. This program will continue to enrich the connection between the clubs and help raise the next generation of debaters.
Massachusetts Speech and Debate League officials loved the new high school and are excited for Arlington to host again in the future. The AHS Speech and Debate Team captains had this to say: “At its core, speech and debate is about the loving community students have built around this activity. Team members have demonstrated nothing but love and admiration for the competitive nature of this activity. The Team has grown a lot this year, but we are not done yet! We hope to grow our numbers in the coming years, in order to solidify our legacy at both AHS and within the MSDL.”
The Team hopes to send students to Nationals this year in Des Moines, Iowa. The momentum the group has obtained to date should continue to grow the club and spread the positive impact of speech and debate to the surrounding community. Anyone interested in learning more or getting involved can reach out to the Arlington Speech and Debate Team captains at [email protected].