Speech and debate team ’rounds out’ 2019 with victories

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Photo credit: Bear Allen-Blaine

Archer Speech and Debate Team members pose with their awards after a league tournament on Saturday, Nov. 23. Although the team was only officially formed two years ago, Chryss-Connell (third from left) believes that they are "at the height of their achievements" this year.

After most Archer students have departed for the day on the 3:15 p.m buses, a middle school math classroom comes alive with the sounds of presenting voices, typing fingers and uncontrollable laughter. Inside, the 10-member speech and debate team prepares for upcoming tournaments and connects over their love of the activity.

“It’s definitely its own little universe,” speech captain and junior Kylie Chryss-Connell said. “You really have to experience it to understand it, and when you do understand it, you’ll fall in love with it.”

The team practices every Tuesday and Thursday and competes in approximately 20 tournaments per year. Tournaments take place as close as Culver City High School and as far as Kentucky.

“There were some growing pains, in terms of establishing the program, setting the bar high, and setting the expectations realistically high,” Speech and Debate Coach Bear Allen-Blaine said. “I have yet to be let down.”

The Speech and Debate Team officially began within the last two years but has already seen enormous success. Last spring, four team members qualified for the state championship, with senior Grace Carter and Rothenberg earning semifinalist recognition. This year, Carter qualified for the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions (NIETOC) in Houston, and Chryss-Connell and Carter will both travel to Kentucky to compete in the Tournament of Champions in April.

“Archer is a really small, really new team as compared to a lot of other schools,” sophomore Ava Rothenberg said. “They have debate teams of about 50 to 60 kids, with 30 to 20 competing at every tournament. Archer has I think ten girls in total, and there’s like four at every tournament. It’s kind of a cliche to say, but we’re definitely the underdogs at a lot of our events.”

A high school speech champion herself, Speech and Debate Coach Bear Allen-Blaine has established a speech program at Archer and led a debate team that she said was “all over the place.” Although her high school’s larger team tended to do well at every major tournament, Allen-Blaine sees the small team as a “strength” for Archer in the speech and debate circuit.

“There’s this attitude of small but mighty,” Allen-Blaine said. “[We are] able to capitalize on what little resources we do have, whether it’s practice hours or accessibility to scripts and cases.”

Chryss-Connell expressed pride in the team’s recent, rapid growth.

“We’ve come this far in such a short amount of time; it’s really unheard of,” Chryss-Connell said. “Just because of the amount of work we’ve put in, we’ve been able to become a threat that people know about. And we’re actually starting to establish a presence for ourselves on the circuit. We see these big chains knowing who we are, and it’s really great.”

Although Rothenberg’s advancement was individual, both she and Chryss-Connell believe that their team dynamic deeply affects “morale.”

“Because we’re so small, and because we’re going through so much together, and we’re spending such a large amount of time together, we’re just so immensely close,” Rothenberg said of the team. “While everybody on our team is beautiful and unique in their own way, I think we are all very similar. And it’s really great to find that small, niche group of people.”

Beyond the team itself, Chryss-Connell believes she has learned skills in the program that she will “carry” with her “for the rest of [her] life.”

“The skills gained in speech are the type of skills that will help you succeed no matter what career path you go down,” Chryss-Connell said. “In speech, you learn a lot about speaking spontaneously, and also about presenting in front of large audiences. Debate is also really centralized around trying to figure out what your opponent is thinking, and in a world where we’re constantly trying to empathize with other people, that’s a really important skill set to have.”

Rothenberg believes that many people have misconceptions of speech and debate, which often “scare” them out of participating.

“I think a lot of people just think speech and debate is just two people arguing back and forth, or they think that you’re speaking in front of an audience to 200 people in an auditorium,” Rothenberg said. “In reality, you go to a high school on a Saturday and you go into a math classroom with a judge and the other people who are competing against you. It’s really not as scary as it sounds. And I say that from the place of a person who enjoys public speaking, but there really is something for everybody.”

Both Rothenberg and Chryss-Connell said that the team has “improved” greatly since its official formation two years ago and are eager to see what their future tournaments have in store.

“It’s one of the activities that can feel very intimidating when you first enter,” Chryss-Connell said. “I think we’ve finally gotten to the point where we have girls who have enough experience to be able to coach the lower classmen…We’ve been immersed enough in this world [and] have enough experience to actually be a serious threat. Hopefully, we can continue on with that and carry it forward.”