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Speech and Debate State Tournament Concludes, With La Salle Finishing in Fourth

Photo courtesy of Mr. Mike Doran
For the first time in La Salle history, a freshman, Ryan Lengkeek, won first place in the state and junior Avari Brocker made it to finals for two years in a row. The last time La Salle had a champion was in 2016, when senior Miriam Yao won in original oratory.

As freshman Ryan Lengkeek found himself standing on stage at the Speech and Debate State Tournament after competing in his final round, he felt like a character in a movie scene. As finalists walked up to receive their medals and exit the stage, the list got shorter and shorter, until just two remained. 

“When the second place was called and I was the only one left on the stage, I started crying, my ears started ringing, my vision went fuzzy,” he said.

Joining the Speech and Debate team this year, he has already found great success, winning first place in the state for Prose as a freshman. 

For Lengkeek, his Speech and Debate journey started in sixth grade, when a close friend of his was joining the Speech and Debate team and wanted a friend to do it with her. Lengkeek quickly found a passion for it. “I like Speech and Debate because it gives you a voice,” he said “You’re able to speak about … whatever you want.”

Lengkeek sees power in the voice Speech and Debate gives you, especially for members of marginalized communities who can use Speech and Debate as an outlet to talk about injustices going on. It also gives him the ability to write pieces on whatever he wants to share. “I’ll think of something that I want to talk about, that I’m passionate about,” Lengkeek said, explaining how it could be anything from a sport to another activity he participates in. “[I] can write a speech about that and share it with the world, and I think it’s just so cool,” he said. 

Practices take place once a week on Tuesdays from 3:20 to 5:00 pm. Tournaments are generally held Fridays and Saturdays throughout the season. Competitors will arrive at the high school chosen to hold the tournament half an hour early and find their assigned table, then sign into Tabroom — an app that alerts you of the upcoming events and sends you emails with information about the specific room number where you will compete with around seven other people. After completing their speech, competitors will listen to other students’ work for the remaining time.   

Lengkeek competed in two events this year: Original Oratory and Prose. Original Oratory is a speech written by a student intended to inform or persuade the audience on a topic. For his Original Oratory, Lengkeek presented a ten minute speech on the importance of sleep. Prose is an interpretation of a piece of literature, and for his piece Lengkeek read an excerpt from the book Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. 

The actual state tournament took place over three days of competition, with competitors leaving from La Salle via bus at 9 a.m. and coming back around 9 p.m. The long days were sometimes a challenge for Lengkeek, and the atmosphere of the state tournament was an added difficulty, as it was very different from that of a regular tournament or the district competition. 

“It’s so much more stressful than at districts because everyone’s so good,” Lengkeek said. “The competition is just so much better.”

On day one of state, Lengkeek competed in both Oratory and Prose, only advancing in Prose and competing in that for the remaining two days. In the room where he gave the speeches and performances, the competitive atmosphere was evident as students anxiously awaited their turns. “Every person, when they’re sitting watching someone give their speech, is just like ‘Am I better than this person?’” Lengkeek said. 

One big challenge from the state tournament resulted from his presentation of Turtles All the Way Down. During part of his performance Lengkeek fell to his knees on stage, potentially going against the rules regarding how much speakers are allowed to move during their performances.“My coach came up to me and said ‘we had someone complain that you have too much movement and are threatening disqualification,’” he said. 

Before his Prose piece, Lengkeek received some valuable assistance from junior Avari Brocker, who advised him on vocal variation and blocking throughout the season. This helped him to hone his movement and expressions during his speech.

Brocker joined Speech and Debate after forecasting for it her freshman year. “I’ve always loved talking and leading,” she said. “It’s just kind of been my interest since I was little.” 

After taking the class, Brocker was invited by Speech and Debate coach and Social Studies teacher Mr. Mike Doran to join the Speech and Debate team. 

For Brocker, similarly to Lengkeek, being able to present about something important to her is a large aspect of what draws her to Speech and Debate. “I really like the tournaments and the ability for me to make a piece about a topic that’s meaningful to me, that I get to then express and have viewed by judges and other competitors,” she said. 

In addition to that, what she has learned in Speech and Debate will likely help her in the career she currently plans to pursue — being a biomedical engineer and entrepreneur, hoping to eventually lead a company. “I think it’s really good practice for the rest of my life,” she said. “I’m going to be making speeches and doing presentations in my career and so I really value these skills.”

For state, Brocker competed in Poetry, with an original piece called “We Are Enough” about the importance of self-esteem. Over the three days of the state tournament, one struggle for her was the period of time before results on who made it to the next round were announced. “You just have to wait really late to figure out if you’re advancing to the next day, and so I’d say that waiting was the worst part,” she said. “I really hate waiting.”

In the end, Brocker placed 5th overall in the state for Poetry, becoming the first in school history to make it to finals two years in a row, as last year she came in 4th overall in Poetry. 

This year, Brocker was captain of the Speech and Debate team, which came with new experiences for her. In addition to looking for any opportunity she could to help out her teammates, she worked very closely with Lengkeek. 

“I worked a lot with him on his vocal variations and characters and blocking,” she said. “That was just kind of some student coaching that I did throughout the year that honestly I had a lot of fun with and was a really big part of my year.”

In the future, Brocker may continue competing on a Speech and Debate team if the college she chooses has one. “If my school does have a Speech and Debate team, I definitely plan to continue,” she said. “I want to take my speech career as far as I can.”

 As a whole, the team came in fourth overall in 5A for sweepstakes – points earned throughout the season and awarded at the state tournament. Members of the team earning points for sweepstakes were Avari Brocker (11) in Poetry, Michael Doran (11) and Gabrielle Jones (10) in Informative Speaking and Radio Commentary, Ryan Lengkeek (9) in Prose and Original Oratory, David Sharyan (10) in Congress, and Branden Sasamoto (11) in After Dinner Speaking. 

Mr. Doran, who has been part of the Speech and Debate program for 13 years after the school asked him to help start a team, heading the operation has been very enjoyable. 

“It’s just been a rewarding experience to work with the students and to see them grow in their Speech and Debate skills,” Mr. Doran said. 

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    Rickilyn SchneiderMay 23, 2024 at 9:33 am

    Congratulations! And you have a wonderful educator in Mr. Doran.