Speech And Debate At Holy Redeemer Builds Leaders
Holy Redeemer’s Speech and Debate Team is preparing to venture into the season of qualifiers. The team competes at two qualifier tournaments per year: State Qualifiers and National Qualifiers. Holy Redeemer was represented at Abington Heights High School recently where the team earned their fourth consecutive District Championship at the State Qualifier. The top two competitors in each event qualify to States and will compete for State titles on March 15 at Bloomsburg University. The Speech and Debate team will then compete at the Shikellamy High School National Qualifier. The top two finalists in each event will earn their place at the Grand National Tournament in Milwaukee, Wis., during Memorial Day weekend. The Speech and Debate Team, established in 2007, has qualified several students to States and Nationals throughout the years. Last year, 4,000 people attended Nationals. Holy Redeemer has had five students advance to out rounds at Nationals during the time period. Students from Holy Redeemer compete with fellow forensics colleagues from high schools all across the country within the National Catholic Forensic League, or NCFL. The league has been hosting a national tournament since the first Nationals in 1952 in Brooklyn, N.Y. Since then, NCFL has hosted a Grand National Tournament every year in some of the country’s most diverse and vibrant cities, such as Sacramento, Calif.; Miami, Fla., and even our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. The mantra of the National Catholic Forensic League is “Leadership Through Speech.” Holy Redeemer’s students are taught how to live out this mantra by their six volunteer coaches: Dr. Jes Niemiec, Mike Wolfkiel, Joanna Smith, Briana Scorey, Gaetano Buonsante, and Jerome Hannon. One of the volunteer coaches at Holy Redeemer, Dr. Jes Niemiec, has demonstrated her passion for giving credence to this quotation by stating, “Forensics fosters not only communication, research, and presentation skills, it also sparks creativity, and helps students become the best versions of themselves. This activity empowers its members to learn beyond the classroom, to work with others in a meaningful way, and to grow into the leaders of tomorrow.” Dr. Niemiec and her fellow coaches volunteer their time, effort, and talents to ensuring that every student on the team has the opportunity to be emboldened with a zeal for articulating the causes that matter to them. Speech and Debate has the longest competition season of any other team, athletic or academic, at Holy Redeemer. The team competes from October through the end of May. The members of the team utilize the skills they have acquired through Speech and Debate to better their school environment and their community. Several of the team’s students are also involved in National Honor Society, Student Leadership Council, the school newspaper, and theater arts. Holy Redeemer’s 2015 valedictorian, former president of the Speech and Debate team, and current volunteer coach, Briana Scorey, states, “Speech is the perfect outlet to grow as a person and as a student simultaneously because it lets you think critically about and communicate what matters most to you — whether that’s poetry, political issues, or moral values — and that development is tied so intimately to our academic learning.” The team also volunteers at Valley Santa in December to give back to the local community. The team also hosts its own “Redeem Yourself Tournament” in April. The tournament involves the students, coaches, parents, and alumni in an effort to continue making this an activity that people are enthusiastic about. Alaina Lutz, a Forensics coach for younger students at St. Nick’s Elementary School and the mother of a former Speech and Debater, states, “I have had the honor of being both a Speech and Debate parent and a team coach. What these students learn and accomplish through Speech and Debate is amazing. It not only is about presenting yourself in front of a crowd, but it’s also about teamwork and self-control, research, practice, and helping others.” Lutz has assisted with the Redeem Yourself Tournament since its establishment, even after her own son had graduated. The bonds that students form with their teammates and coaches is unmatched; there is a collaborative effort on both ends to enable growth and cultivate speaking skills. Lutz is currently preparing younger students for what they will have the opportunity to experience at Holy Redeemer through the world of high school forensics. Holy Redeemer is preparing students for their future in a variety of ways, including Speech and Debate. Mike Wolfkiel, current coach of the team, has implemented the speaking skills he learned through Speech and Debate in his own career, stating, “As a training manager, I do presentations for a living. I wouldn’t be in this career or be as good at my job without forensics.” The team also teaches time management, organization, and fundraising. Throughout the season, each team member is responsible for contributing to team fundraisers and helping prepare for the Redeem Yourself Tournament. The team also provides plenty of leadership opportunities for students to fill. The team currently entrusts responsibilities to their six student team officers. Many Holy Redeemer alumni, who spent a majority of their high school career on the Speech and Debate team, have gone on to excel in college and the workforce with the skills and talents that were nurtured by their dedicated coaches, supportive parents, and the lifelong friends they made in their teammates. The team is dedicated to spending Saturdays waking up before the sun rises, dressing in suits, and speaking about topics they are passionate about to classrooms full of people who share the same vigor for communication and fruitful discussion. This activity is daunting to a large percentage of the country’s population; The Washington Post has deemed public speaking the biggest fear in 25.3 percent of the nation’s population. High school students at Holy Redeemer and across the country are going against the boundaries of this statistic by captivating audiences with articulation, research, and expression. Many students on Holy Redeemer’s Speech and Debate team are members of the National Speech and Debate Honor Society, an organization dedicated to highlighting the efforts made by students who value communication in its various forms: Public Address, Debate, and Drama. Speech and Debate students recognize that while they perform in a competitive setting, their focus is not on acquiring trophies or consistently breaking to final rounds. The goal is to learn how to become better performers and people, to grow as a teammate, to apply constructive criticism, and to become a leader who speaks for those who are voiceless. Holy Redeemer’s Speech and Debaters are reminded of these pillars before every tournament. After the team has gone through warm ups, practiced their pieces, and shared their goals for the day with their teammates and coaches, the students collectively say, “We speak for those who have no voice. We speak to make things better. We speak for each other.” The team carries these three statements with them throughout every tournament to remind them that they are a valuable member who has a responsibility to do their best for the good of the team as a whole. At the end of typical 12-hour tournament days, each team member and coach shares what they liked, what they disliked, and what they learned throughout the course of the day. These mechanisms build a team relationship and reiterates the value of communication. Holy Redeemer is excited to see what the future holds for its Speech and Debate team as they venture into the qualifier season. Holy Redeemer continuously shows support for the team by posting placement updates on social media, sharing tournament success during school announcements, and enabling the team to conduct fundraisers for travel expenses. The team is very grateful for all the opportunities and support the school has given to them. The team looks forward to competing for the remainder of this season and to hosting Redeem Yourself on April 13. Kyra Krzywicki is a student at Holy Redeemer High School. Student columns are published Wednesdays during the school year.