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Freshman Karl Walter lets out a relieved sigh. He and his partner freshman Brian Phillips were the lucky duo randomly picked to have a last round bye, meaning they didn’t have to debate their last round of the day at the Shawnee Mission West debate invitational. The boys had survived all day in the double-elimination tournament, qualifying them in the national tournament in Washington, D.C.
Though Walter was happy, more than anything, he was exhausted.
“At that point I was just like, ‘yay…I’m ready to go home and eat,” Walter said.
Walter and Phillips are two of the 11 debate and forensics students who have qualified for the National Catholic Forensic League (NCFL) tournament, along with five other students who have qualified for National Forensics League (NFL) so far this year.
Kansas is unusual in the sense that it splits forensics and debate into two different semesters. Debate is in the first semester, forensics in the second. Everyone else lumps both of them together. The students who qualified for policy debate in NCFL actually qualified last semester, and all forensics students have qualified this semester, and will have more opportunities to qualify at tournaments in the next few weeks.
To qualify for Nationals in the NCFL, students have to place in the top six at an invitational tournament. NCFL qualifiers were Chris Carey, Michael Hill, Wil Kenney, Mark Towster, Karl Walter, Brian Phillips, Jack Mitchell, Hanna Bautz, Jayden Robert, Peter Bautz, and Liam Murphy. Students also could place in the top two or three at a tournament to qualify for nationals for the NFL. Towster, Kenney, Carey, and, Bautz, and Murphy are the student who have qualified for NFL Nationals so far.
According to Towster, NFL is slightly harder to get into, specifically from a judging standpoint. NCFL usually has parent guests as judges, where NFL has judges who are more familiar with debate.
“The difference between having a mom judging you and someone who knows what debate is really huge,” Towster said. “So it’s actually a lot easier debate-wise to debate in front of someone who is familiar with it verses a mom who doesn’t know whatever you’re talking about.”
According to Debate and Forensics coach Trey Witt, qualifying for nationals is expected, as there have been students qualifying each year for over ten years, but in terms of which students, nobody can ever predict.
“You never know,” Witt said. “You always know when kids are talented, but in terms of qualifying it’s hard to tell because it’s how they do at one tournament.”
Hill, though never previously qualified for the tournament, had high hopes starting his debate season in the fall.
“I thought we’d qualify just because we did pretty well in this year in Kansas before that [qualifying] tournament and we did pretty well nationally,” Hill said. “But I wouldn’t have been surprised if we didn’t qualify.”
Walter, on the other hand, was almost sure that he would not qualify. He thought that qualifying would be great, but if he wasn’t going to qualify, he wanted to get home as quickly as possible so he could eat and go to bed.
“When my mom signed the permission slip she was like ‘what’s this all about?’ and I was like ‘well if I qualify to nationals, I go to Washington D.C., and we have to pay for a judge, a plane ticket, whatever,” Walter said. “But don’t worry I won’t qualify.”
Junior debater Towster and his partner Kenney were unique in the way that they qualified for two different National events, one for NCFL and one for NFL.
In Witt’s and fellow forensics and debate teacher Jennifer Hunter’s eyes, the most important qualities to have that help someone do well in a debate tournament would be hard work from the student, being well-read, and most importantly, confident.
“The kids that are usually the most successful are the ones who just appear confident,” Witt said. “A lot of judges are just parents that are not professional forensics judges. They’re just community people, and I think that’s the most persuasive thing to them, just seeing a kid who carries themselves well, and is confident.”
The tournament in Washington D.C. will take place over memorial weekend at several venues throughout the area. Although students might have a little time to explore the city when they arrive on Thursday [May 26], their biggest priority there will be the competition. This tournament will be similar to local invitationals, but will include many more teams and have many more preliminary rounds.
“Nationals is way bigger than an invitational,” Witt said. “There are thousands of kids from all over the country that go. Everyone will compete over the weekend at different locations. So if they’re doing debate, there will be five debate rounds on Saturday. The acting events, they’ll be competing all day, doing different competitions.”
In D.C. they will meet speech and debate students from all over the nation. The best of the best. According to Witt, a lot of Midwestern schools stood out to him, skill wise; specifically Minnesota, Texas and California schools.
2010 East graduate and Harvard University freshman Tara Raghuveer debated at East and qualified to nationals three times. For her, traveling to nationals helped her in some ways in her decision to stick with debating in college.
“I think that was actually the best part of the experience [of nationals],” Raghuveer said. “Getting to meet people from all over the country who were debaters and came from different styles. You have to adapt to different styles of debate when you’re debating competitors from Oregon and New York as opposed to the competitors you see every week in Kansas.”
Witt also says the best way for students to learn and get better is watching other kids debate who are better than them, especially for younger students who will return in future years. East’s debate team is rare because the majority of the members are freshman and sophomores. Out of the 11 students who qualified, only one is a senior.
“For the coming years, having that experience of not only competing at nationals, but seeing other kids perform that are really good, I think that’s what makes kids better, especially in forensics.” Witt said. “It raises your own standards when you see other kids that are really talented.”