A new year for speech and debate: new faces, new branches and more hopes for more national tournament bids

November 8, 2023 — by Alan Cai and Bryan Zhao
Courtesy of Andrew Wu
Students fill the student center on a Tuesday night for debate practice.
This year, the team, with new coach Jenny Cook, is looking to push forward the colossal fifty person club and hopes to further enhance its Parliamentary Debate branch.

With a new coach and a truckload of promising freshmen, the speech and debate team is ramping up for the main part of the season. With the club now totaling around 77 members, Tuesday and Thursday evening meetings have been consistently garnering dozens of people.

A new speech coach, Jenny Cook, has joined the returning debate coach Steve Clemmons. She previously worked for a debate organization called Summit Debate that helped teach students debate skills.

Last year featured one of the strongest performances in the history of the program, with then-sophomores catapulting the school from relative obscurity into being seen as one of the up and coming debate programs in the nation. 

In speech, junior Timothy Leung qualified for the finals at the 2023 National Tournament in speech and won the state tournament in the Program Oral Interpretation event. In debate, juniors Leonardo Jia and Ashish Goswami made it to the quarterfinals at the Tournament of Champions (TOC) in Public Forum Debate. At their peak, the duo were ranked among the top 10 Public Forum teams in the country.

Junior speech competitor Kinnera Potluri is looking to start another successful season, having qualified for the highest level of speech last year at the TOC. She is looking to rack up more bids, or qualifications to the TOC, in her second half of high school. 

So far, two pairs of varsity debaters, Jia and Goswami and Skyler Mao and Anthony Luo, have qualified for the tournament already.

“Our returning members are returning from a strong finish at the state and national level” said new Speech coach Jenny Cook.

In addition to the strong speech and debate teams, the relatively new Parliamentary team, founded spring of 2022, is looking to gain its first-ever TOC berth this year. 

Parliamentary debate is different from the other forms because it relies on impromptu debating on niche topics such as the Thai democracy movement, Turkish-Greek immigration crisis and Hollywood screenwriters strike. Debaters are given a topic 20 minutes before the round, and rely on short-term research compared to the standard format of researching for weeks before a tournament.

Junior Saatvik Kommareddi, who competes alongside fellow junior Alan Cai, is optimistic about the new team’s outlook.

“Our plans for the future is to make Parliamentary debate a more popular debate team by getting more competitors and teaching them the format,” he said. “We are also shooting to have a couple teams ranked top 50 nationally.” 

With the large number of freshmen joining the team, a couple enter the program with strong credentials from middle school:  Ovee Dharwadkar in speech and Sanyukta Ravishankar in debate. 

Dharwadkar, competing in Original Oratory and Dramatic Interpretation, won 4th place at the Middle School Tournament of Champions and 5th in the National Speech and Debate Middle School Championships. Ravishankar won top speaker at Forensic League National Championship and went 4-2 in JV at the Stanford Invitational.

“I love meeting and learning from competitors. Speech and debate is a ton of fun,” Dharwadkar said. 

Additionally, Clemmons and Cook, who have made many contributions teaching the members and supporting them at tournaments, are looking to grow the team and expand on last year’s success.  

“With this level of experience and combined talent, coupled with team members competing in multiple events, the sky’s the limit!” Cook said.