Speech and debaters excel at Tournament of Champions

May 15, 2024 — by Anthony Luo
Courtesy of Timothy Leung
Juniors Timothy Leung and Kinnera Potluri perform their Duo Interpretation speech, “Click,” at the Tournament of Champions on April 20.
Timothy Leung and Kinnera Potluri earned third place in the Duo Interpretation category, while Ashish Goswami and Leonardo Jia made it to semifinals in public forum, earning fourth place.

After months of extensive research and preparation, along with a lengthy qualification process, students from the speech and debate team delivered strong performances at the highly competitive annual Tournament of Champions, held at the University of Kentucky from April 20-22. 

Topping the list of standout performances was third-place finish among 22 teams by juniors Timothy Leung and Kinnera Potluri for their Duo Interpretation performance. Leung also earned fourth place for his Program Oral Interpretation (POI) speech among 27 competitors. In debate, juniors Ashish Goswami and Leonardo Jia made it to the semifinals in public forum and earned fourth place.

The team also saw historically high attendance, with more than 10 individuals from the school qualifying and seven attending. On the debate side, two teams competed in the gold division for public forum: one was Goswami and Jia and the other was junior Skyler Mao and sophomore Anthony Luo. This highly competitive division included 115 teams.

On the speech side, sophomore Anagha Vitaldevara competed in the Dramatic Interpretation category. Aside from their combined Duo Interpretation performance, Leung competed in POI and Potluri competed in Humorous Interpretation.

But even qualifying for the tournament in the first place was an  achievement. To be eligible for it, each individual or team had to earn two “bids” for their respective event by placing highly, usually quarterfinals or better, at two tournaments throughout the season. 

For debate participants, those tournaments also must be from a select list of competitive invitationals, such as the Berkeley Invitational in February or the John Lewis Invitational in November. Competitors can also qualify with only one bid through an “at-large” system where they make a case for their attendance by providing a letter of recommendation and a list of their results throughout the year.

“Sending two teams to the gold division in public forum and many more in speech is already super impressive,” Goswami said. “And as a small school, it shows that our club is filled with really talented people.”

Photo by Anthony Luo

Luo, Goswami, Jia and Mao after Goswami and Jia’s semifinals round on April 22.

Due to the extensive qualification process, most teams at the TOC were of exceptional caliber, and thus the team saw fierce competition and had to thoroughly prepare and rehearse, both mentally and physically.

Goswami and Jia made the decision to not compete in any tournaments covering the March public forum topic in order to give themselves more time to find evidence, form unique arguments and scrimmage other teams on the April topic, which was “Resolved: The United Nations should abolish permanent membership on its Security Council.”

They tried to form contentions that deviated from standard, or “stock” arguments that other teams were likely to run. For instance, they showed how abolishing permanent membership would lead to a cascade-effect that impacted other organizations like the International Labor Organization, or how extremist groups in Nepal rely on China’s permanent membership and could lash out if China lost that power.

Aside from just focusing on the substance of each debate, Goswami and Jia also began to train themselves physically by running after school every day, having noticed at previous tournaments that physical fatigue and fitness were just as much of a challenge as being mentally prepared.

“It sounds funny, but debaters often overlook their sleep, diet and exercise,” Goswami said. “So we figured that if we could just get one percent better than everyone else at each of those things, it would boost our endurance significantly.”

On the other hand, Leung and Potluri were able to combine their practice for TOC with their preparation for the California High School Speech Association state tournament (CHSSA), which they attended on April 12-14. Although they did not see their best results at the CHSSA and did not make it past the preliminary rounds, the experience pushed them to keep improving.

“[At CHSSA] we got the chance to watch competitors who [made it to elimination rounds], read our ballots (feedback from judges) and make minor changes,” Leung said. “We also realized that we needed to really commit to each of our performances and never half-a— it.”

On May 10-12, Leung, Potluri and Vitaldevara, along with freshmen Preksha Jain and Devika Nair and senior Cameron Nguyen traveled to Bellevue, Nebraska, for the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions (NIETOC). In June, Leung, Vitaldevara, Goswami and Jia will travel to Des Moines, Iowa, for the National Speech and Debate Tournament

Still, the team’s success at the TOC is nothing to be overlooked, and Goswami feels that ultimately their lengthy preparations were more than worth it.

“I’m thankful all of it paid off. We’ve improved so much, and I just feel like we’ve worked for it,” Goswami said. “So I’m very grateful that I was able to have this experience, because not a lot of people get to compete at the highest level, and even fewer get to go with such an amazing team.”

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