How Speech and Debate is coping with COVID-19

Makayla Voris

COVID-19 has proved to be a trying obstacle for many clubs and teams. In the interest of keeping club members and audiences safe, the Speech and Debate Team has had to move almost completely online. It first became apparent that things were going to be a little different when the National Qualifiers and State Tournament were cancelled at the beginning of March. 

Marissa Moore, a senior and captain of the team, said that the ordeal was “really frustrating because my partner and I were ready for them and we had just gotten first at our MSHSAA District level qualifiers, so we had a good shot going into the National Qualifiers.”

This is no mean feat: the MSHSAA District qualifiers decide who will eventually go to the National qualifiers, which will mean competing against teams from all over the country. 

With virtual school on the horizon, the team was forced to replan practice times and dates. According to Dr. Danielle Johnson, Speech and Debate coach, the team is using many virtual platforms to keep the momentum going. 

“We are using Zoom for practices. For speech events they often have to pre-record and we are using Loom, Zoom, and just Google Drive with videos. For competition we use either NSDA Campus or Zoom,”  Johnson said.

Although keeping track of these platforms seems tricky, there is a positive side: a greater tournament attendance. 

“COVID has also forced us to replan a lot of practices, but it allows us to go to more tournaments since we don’t have to travel,” Moore said. 

While the ability to attend more tournaments in a virtual setting allows more flexibility, it is not without its roadblocks. Freshman Leslie Navarro participates in Lincoln-Douglas Debate (a debate style featuring single debaters instead of teams) and said that her first tournament came with many technical challenges. 

“I would prefer in-person since for meetings it’s easier to do things and learn,” said Navarro.“On the first online tournament there were a lot of technical difficulties with lots of students, including me.”

Moore agreed and said, “It’s hard to interact with partners or give presentations that way you normally would. For example, I do Informative Speaking, which allows optional visual aids, but with the virtual format using those is difficult and can put you at a disadvantage.” 

Despite these disadvantages, Navarro, Moore, and Johnson agree that Speech and Debate is an exciting and fun way to develop communication and research skills. 

“I love Speech and Debate. It’s hard work, but you get out what you put in. I’ve been on the team for the last four years and it certainly has changed a lot, but I think the skills that can be learned from it are irreplaceable,” Moore said. 

Leslie Navarro said that her first experience has been a good one. “I was [excited to participate in Speech and Debate] since it was different from clubs I’ve joined in middle school. In the first few meetings, everyone that was in it before made it sound very fun and they were all willing to help,” said Navarro. 

“It [speech and debate] really helps you gain perspective as you always have to argue both sides of an issue.  You can see rational arguments where some people just get angry.  I think speaking skills will help you no matter the profession and communication can help you with relationships as well,” said Johnson. 

It’s obvious that the Speech and Debate Team plans to continue as best they can in a virtual environment. The primary focus is keeping participants safe while teaching valuable life skills and having fun.