Speech and debate: New parent committee president sets goals for season

December 3, 2015 — by Divya Rallabandi and Kyle Wang

As the current parent committee president, Sunder Raj, father of senior Sweeya Raj, is in charge of communicating with families and coaches, administering tournament logistics and ensuring a smooth season.

The clock reads 8:34 p.m., and Sunder Raj, father of senior Sweeya Raj, is sitting at a desk in room 705, managing speech and debate tournament registration on his laptop with coach Chris Harris and other parents by his side.

As the current parent committee president, Raj is in charge of communicating with families and coaches, administering tournament logistics and ensuring a smooth season. Though the work is often tedious, Raj said he enjoys the process.

“It’s just like any other job,” Raj said. “If you think it’s just work, then it’s a lot of work; if you think this is a passion that you love to do, then it’s not.”

Raj said he usually spends about three to four hours each week doing speech and debate-related work. During weeks before tournaments, however, he can spend up to 10 hours.

In the past, tournament preparation was not as smooth as it has been this year. Some messages regarding tournament day procedures were only relayed to parents via email, whereas others were sent only through Facebook. Consequently, not all parents received the necessary information about tournament protocol.

Some tournaments, Raj said, require a certain number of parent judges from each school to be present at all times. Ensuring that parents were aware of such rules has been practically impossible since there has been no way of implementing a mechanism to check whether enough parents were there. Raj hopes to fix this problem in the near future.

While improving team communications is one of Raj’s short-term goals, Raj’s long-term goals include boosting representation at state and national-level competitions.

“When [competitors] enter a room and say they’re from Saratoga, I want the rest of the kids to take notice,” Raj said.

Raj was introduced to the program when his oldest child, his son Sudeep, participated in Parliamentary debate his freshman year in 2010. Like many other parents of incoming debaters, Raj was originally unfamiliar with tournament routines and other team procedures.

The difficulties of adjusting to the system inspired him to help other parents and help out.

“You’re going through a learning process,” he said, “so you know that a fresh parent coming into the system will have the same questions.”

Raj said that his children have benefited tremendously from participating in speech and debate.

“[My dad] invests a lot of time in the debate program mainly because he saw my brother gain a lot of confidence by going through the program, and this was his way of giving back,” Sweeya said.

Sudeep reached the final round at the California State Tournament in Parliamentary debate as a senior last year, where he and his partner, 2015 alumnus Michael Ong, lost by one vote to the opposition. Sweeya, who competes in Public Forum debate, reached the octofinal round at the Harker School Howard and Diana Nichols Invitational with her partner, senior Nupur Maheshwari.

Next year, Raj will have to decide whether he will continue taking an active role in the program. Even if he decides not to take the position, Raj said he is still willing to help out the team whenever possible.

“To me, it’s just about giving back to the debate community that  helped my kids,” he said.

 
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