Speech and debate members ‘solidify interests,’ place highly in qualifying tournament


Photo credit: Maia Alvarez

Junior Ella Poon practices her dramatic interpretation in front of speech and debate coach Shaindi Schwebel and freshmen Allie Yang and Lili Franks, who are watching to give Poon feedback. Speech and debate members competed in qualifying tournaments March 5 and 12, where top placers advanced to the state tournament.

By Audrey Chang, Editor-in-Chief

Dressed in formal attire and prepared to perform their speeches, Archer’s speech and debate team logged onto Zoom sessions to compete in State Quals, a tournament that decides which participants will advance to the state-wide tournament.

Students participating in speech competed in the speech qualifier March 5, and they placed highly in different events and qualified three students to the state tournament. Freshman Sydney Curry placed first for Impromptu, junior Ella Poon placed second for Dramatic Interpretation and sophomore Maia Alvarez placed second for Original Poetry and Prose. Alvarez and freshman Allie Yang also placed fourth for Duo Interpretation. Students who placed in the top three advanced to the state competition.

The debate qualifier took place March 12, and students will compete in the national qualifier for speech and debate March 19-20. Speech and debate coach Shaindi Schwebel said she has enjoyed seeing the growth of the team, especially for students who didn’t have previous experience with speech and debate.

About half of our students, I would say, are new to the team this year and [are] either freshmen or sophomores, and so I think that for those students, there’s obviously a huge jump from not knowing anything about it to winning first and second and third place,” Schwebel said. “With everyone, the confidence that we’ve seen grow in them, where they start to realize that they can do this and they feel good about themselves … it’s always fun to watch.”

Speech captain Poon helps the other members of the team decide which events they want to compete in and later assists them in forming speeches. Then, she helps them write out their speeches and offers feedback to help them improve for future competitions. Poon joined speech and debate last year while being online, and said she has enjoyed the social aspect of the team as well as being back in-person.

“What I love about it is it’s mostly just a good place to make friends,” Poon said. “Even though you would think that might not happen because debate and speech — they’re both competitive and you compete against your own team — but I still think there is a team aspect to it.”

Yang said another reason students love speech and debate is because it helps them combine various passions into one activity, such as selecting events that align with their personal interests. Yang competed in Duo Interpretation with Alvarez at the speech qualifiers because she is also interested in acting and theater.

“It’s helped me combine all my interests. I did theater for a little bit, and I love that. I also love to write. I also love public speaking in general,” Yang said. “Speech and debate really allowed me to combine all three of those interests into something that I can do every week.”

Just being able to see them succeed [and knowing] that I had a part in that is super exciting.

— Zoe Griffin, debate captain ('23)

Another aspect of the larger tournaments that can help students progress is how they can learn different skills from other speech and debate competitors.

“The amazing thing about these competitions is that there’s so many people who are so good at it … who you can really learn from and then become better next year,” Schwebel said. “You get to learn from your competitors, so it’s going to be fun.” 

There are many types of interpretative events in speech, including ones involving acting like Dramatic Interpretation and Humorous Interpretation, and also more informative events like Expository and Original Oratory, where the goal is to persuade and inform the audience. Archer students compete in a variety of events, and a major goal for Poon was having as many people qualify for the state-wide tournament as possible.

“The biggest goal or dream would be that everyone in speech qualifies to state because we’ve had that happen. It’s possible for it to happen so we can just hope it will,” Poon said. “The minimum would be a few people qualify, but at the most we obviously want everyone to qualify.”

Throughout competitions and practices, the team, specifically the newest members, have been able to develop their interests and choose events that they are most excited to compete in as they learn more about each one.

“In the beginning, we had a lot of new people on the team, especially freshmen, and none of us really knew what we’re doing because it was so new to us, but the captains and the upperclassmen have really helped us get familiar with different events,” Yang said. “We’ve made progress in terms of solidifying our interests, and then also just skill in general because we had some exposure to different tournaments.” 

Poon said she was most looking forward to seeing all of the other students perform their speeches that they’ve been working on together this year.

“I’m excited to see how my teammates do the most. I care about how I do of course, but also I’m more excited because I’ve worked so much with them and [have focused] much more on their speeches than my own,” Poon said. “We’ve got some really solid speeches. I’m excited to see where they go.”