Speech and debate: team overhaul continues

September 22, 2019 — by Serena Li and Kavita Sundaram

Over the summer, the speech and debate team went through major changes in coaching, including a turnover in the head coach and two speech coaches.

Those changes, including the appointment of English teacher Erick Rector as head coach and English teacher Matt Granoff and outside consultant Steve Clemmons as assistant coaches, were unexpected, but the dozens of students in the program and its student leaders say they are determined to make the season the best one yet. 

This year’s club treasurer, senior Surbhi Bhat, has made a primary focus of the club to have more organized practices.

“We are aware that every student has a conflict,” Bhat said. “So we are trying to create a schedule that allows each student to get the proper help they need.”

Another club president, senior Adhit Sankaran, said that except for a few changes in the curriculum, the practice will have a similar system to last year. The team will continue to host practice debates, speech drills and lectures. 

One new aspect of the club, implemented in the hopes of ensuring productivity, requires captains to have a plan coming into each meeting. This will help keep students on track and focused.

Sophomore speech captain Nandini Desai hopes that the changes in the club this year and the increase in members will help them do better in local tournaments. 

“I hope we do well at Coast Forensic League tournaments so we can make a name for Saratoga,” Desai said.

Another change regarding practices is that more experienced members will be separated from newer members so students can work at their own pace and with others of the same caliber.

“Students who want to improve will have resources available to them, and they can always ask upperclassmen or captains for help,” Sankaran said. 

The club is also working closely with parent boosters and the new coaches to create a more appealing program that will influence students to actively participate in the club throughout the year. 

“A lot of kids last year showed up to the first month of practices and never showed up again, so this year we are trying to create a stronger program,” Bhat said. 

Bhat said that the club also addressed the previously disorganized travel tournaments and the issue of students not being committed. The club is planning to put strict deadlines on forms and payments to prevent students from backing out of tournaments.

“You don’t get to drop the tournament just because you don’t feel ready or you failed to plan,” Bhat said. “The student should be responsible for knowing their schedule.”

This year, the club has already had a taste of success in Robert Garcia Invitational, a debate tournament. In public forum debate, four teams placed in the top 16, and Sankaran won best speaker.

The club is also working towards the Stephen Steward Invitational, a speech and debate tournament, in Milpitas on Sept. 28 and 29, hoping to place in the top 16. 

Aside from the lack of student responsibility, last year’s speech and debate team also had complications with the lack of transparency from parents regarding the changes in the coaching staff. 

“A lot of the time, [even while] being a part of the program, I was not aware of the changes that were made at the parent level,” Bhat said. 

As such, student leaders are proposing a monthly meeting with parents in the booster group to ensure that everyone gets the necessary information and to create a more inclusive decision-making process. 

For parents and students alike, Bhat suggested that the club should be more united.

“I want to work toward making the club more inclusive for all people,” Bhat said. “As a school, we are one team. Especially when we’re going out to compete, it’s important that we feel united.”


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