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The Nestline

The Student News Site of Tompkins High School

The Nestline

The Student News Site of Tompkins High School

The Nestline

Tompkins Debate Students Prepare for Harvard Tournament

Every year during President’s Day weekend, the world-renowned Harvard University holds the Harvard National Invitational Forensics Tournament, the largest high school speech and debate tournament in the United States. From Feb. 17 to 21, part of the Tompkins debate team will travel to Cambridge, Mass. for their second year in a row to compete with other competitive high schoolers from around the nation at this prestigious event.

“This year we are taking 10 students from the team, as it’s invitational only in regards to students going on the trip. I wanted to restrict it to the students that have been working especially hard throughout the year,” debate coach Weston Elkins said.

The Tompkins students going on the trip will be performing in the Public Forum debate, Lincoln-Douglas debate, Extemp, and Original Oratory events. Students’ preparations for tournaments consist largely from building their skills during class and after-school practices, which all becomes especially important for major tournaments like Harvard and UIL.

“Their preparation starts at beginning of year in class, and every local event has given them even more experience and practice for their events. We have one tournament at Seven Lakes the weekend before Harvard, so that will definitely help prepare the team before the trip,” Elkins said. “These opportunities are paid out of pocket by parents, which is such an investment and allows for impactful experiences. As with every tournament, I expect that the team works incredibly hard, especially in their events’ early rounds.”

Along with their coach, the speech and debate students are very aware of the incredible experiences that tournaments provide, and the skills they gain from participating in some rigorous activities. Sophomore Elysia Wu, who is in her first year of debate and will be participating in Original Oratory at Harvard, speaks positively about what it takes to prepare for her events as the Harvard tournament draws near.

“Typically to practice for regular tournaments, we’ll prepare, write material, and perform pieces in class and at home. We also have practices after school almost every day for anyone who wants to stop by. Personally, I stay for debate practice every day that I am able to do so,” Wu said. “The upcoming Harvard tournament is a special case, and to prepare for it, those of us that are going are doing exactly what we usually do to prepare for our tournaments, except just a little more attentively and fervently.”

Junior Ping Rui Toong, who will also be on the Harvard trip, shares Wu’s sentiments. He describes exactly what kind of practice he needs in order to prepare for the Foreign Extemp event, which deals with delivering a speech on a drawn topic about international issues with only one-half hour of preparation time.

“I’ve been giving practice speeches at home and in school, and with the help of Mr. Elkins, I’ve been able to get positive feedback on what I should improve on,” Toong said. “Additionally, I’ve been consistently reading the news, learning about the many issues that countries across our world face, and understanding the implications of these issues. The knowledge I acquire will help inform me for the topics I might have to speak on, and hopefully, my preparation will pay off at the Harvard tournament.”

The students of the speech and debate team work incredibly hard throughout the year, both in local and national competitions. To the team, Harvard is just another opportunity to be able to display their hard work, effort, and passions for their respected events — and hopefully be able to place above the other competing schools. However, it is also a time for the team to grow closer as friends, and share these once-in-a-lifetime experiences together as a true team should.

“I think seeing students in a dynamic outside the classroom is my favorite part of being a coach. It’s hard in a class of 30 students to see the unique facets of their personalities and learn more about their lives outside of school,” Elkins said. “But seeing them outside in a tournament, we spend more time together as a team, and it’s amazing to see students just be themselves.”


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