Speech and Debate Team Finds Success Despite a Fully Virtual Season


Reilly Smith

Mr. Michael Doran, social studies teacher, is the head coach of the speech and debate team.

Avery Rush and Brooklyn Chillemi

Since the arrival of the pandemic, sports and extracurricular activities have looked considerably different. La Salle’s speech and debate team has found success despite the unfamiliar structure of their fully remote season.

“It was definitely tricky in the beginning,” senior Molly Jenne said. “The tournaments were online, so you really had to pay attention to what time your event rounds were beginning. The platforms that were used for the tournaments differed [from] time to time as well.”

During a typical season, speech and debate teams would travel to other schools to compete in live debates. This year, they participated in the tournaments entirely online using a program called Tabroom, which created a new territory for them to conquer.

Senior Gavin Sunderland noted that being online for practices and tournaments is the main challenge the team has to face, but “we overcame these by using the resources at our disposal,” he said.

Despite the unusual year, the team welcomed new members. “We were pleased with many ninth-grade students who participated on the team,” said Mr. Michael Doran, the head coach of the speech and debate team. For this year’s participating freshmen, their experience on the team is incomparable to other years as all of their practices and tournaments have been remote. 

For freshman Dawson Stroud, the year has been “all about experimenting with different events and finding what works for me,” he said. 

The team’s competition season began in October and is now nearing a close, with the state tournament scheduled for the end of April. 

“We have three groups of students competing at state,” Mr. Doran said. These groups are competing in the following categories — Programmed Oral Interpretation, Poetry, and Parliamentary Debate.

Team members also participate in other categories such as Radio and After Dinner Speaking. While students often try a variety of categories, many settle into a specific focus that they compete in at the bulk of their tournaments. 

Many team members find that practicing on their own time is the best way to improve their technique and prepare for tournaments. “When the team cannot practice together, it’s important to keep practicing yourself,” Jenne said. “Putting in the extra time to practice [by] yourself makes a huge difference in your performance.”

This advice has played a more significant role in this year’s season as the lack of in-person practice has created a greater need for self-discipline. “The speech and debate team has worked extremely hard to overcome our current situation,” senior Sawyer Paugh said. “Each individual participant has had to adjust to the environments forced upon them.”

Upon sharing what they felt most excited for at the start of the current season, numerous members expressed their gratitude for the team’s ability to participate amid the limitations COVID-19 has brought. “The most exciting thing for me this year was being able to continue debating and giving speeches even during the pandemic,” Paugh said.

Freshman Sofia Gonzalez said that choosing to participate in speech and debate is “fun and rewarding,” despite the new challenges. 

The coronavirus has undoubtedly presented numerous obstacles for the speech and debate team, but Mr. Doran feels that the season was crucial to their future success and that the hard work of the team has helped to keep the extracurricular afloat.

“I feel that our activity would have suffered long term if we lost an entire year of competition,” said Mr. Doran. “I feel as though we are ending our season on a positive note with just one tournament left this season.”