The country’s best teen orators are in Salt Lake this summer vying for national titles in debate and public speaking.
Held annually since 1931, the National Speech and Debate Tournament is the largest academic contest in the nation with more than 3,300 high school students and hundreds of middle school students competing. It runs all week June 12-17 and is being hosted this year by Canyons School District, which is staging prelims and elimination rounds at several of its schools.
To qualify, students had to ply their rhetorical skills at district- and state-level contests. “These are some of the best and brightest in the country” young people for whom texting, Tweeting and Facebook aren’t the only forms of communication, said Richard Fujimoto, a teacher who is fielding three students from St. Ignatius in Cleveland, OH.
Extemporaneous speaking, humorous interpretation, and policy debates are a few of the categories in which students compete. Also, new this year are: “Program Oral Interpretation,” which is a bit like performance art; and “Informative Speaking,” which is the only category where it’s OK to use props.
Asked what motivated her to spend a week of her summer in a business suit, preparing for the equivalent of a major board presentation, Samantha Millison of Ohio said, “It’s fun.” Before taking speech at school, the 17-year-old says she was reserved and quiet. “Speech is kind of like family. It brings people together who wouldn’t necessarily be friends,” she says.
Learning how to frame an argument and capture an audience’s interest also are useful professional skills, says My’Kell McGee who plans to study political science at Indiana University, Purdue University Indianapolis.
CSD Instructional Support Specialist Leslie Robinett, says hosting the tournament is a coup for the district that’s enabling middle school-age students, who are too young to travel, to compete for the first time.
Preliminary rounds happen Monday and Tuesday with semi-finals later in the week and final match-ups on Friday at the Salt Palace Convention Center. A full schedule can be found online.