The new normal: Speech and Debate adjusts to online tournaments


The Speech and Debate Team finishes an NSDA Practice Tournament, the first online tournament of the year. The team got off to a rough start on the online platform, given the initial lack of incentive to perform well.

Life is different for many extracurricular activities. Sports games feature fewer spectators, chorus members wear masks during performances, and elective classes now attend virtual field trips. Recently, the Speech and Debate Team have been attending tournaments virtually 

Speech and Debate tournaments are typically held in-person, with members of the team either leaving after school or early in the morningDepending on the location of the tournament, they may be traveling by car ahead of time to a hotel, or even flying to a distant destination to compete. This year, however, the team is unable to attend tournaments in-person; all scheduled tournaments have been moved online. 

CDC guidelines include “avoiding gathering in large groups, to control spread of COVID-19,” a precaution that tournament directors seem to uphold; larger national tournaments, such as the Annual Harvard Forensics Tournament, which sees thousands of debaters and speeches coming together and competing, would be inconceivable in today’s world.  

The trend of online tournaments replacing in-person tournaments does not appear to be likely to change in the foreseeable future. Debaters across the country, from Loyola High School in California to Walt Whitman High School in Maryland, view the idea of shifting back to in-person tournaments soon as a poor idea with potentially severe repercussions. 

For the time being, however, tournaments and competitions will be held online. Senior Josh St. Peter, one of two Lincoln-Douglas Debate captains, is already familiar with the routine of an online tournament, having already competed in tournaments such as the National Speech and Debate Tournament.  

Lincoln-Douglas Captain Joshua St. Peter competes in an online tournament via the NSDA Campus platform. St. Peter placed first at the tournament.

“I enjoy the increased flexibility offered by the transition to online, as I can compete with people across the nation which is something couldn’t have done before as we were mostly constrained to Georgia,” St. Peter said. 

Despite being able to communicate with people from around the country more easily and being able to attend tournaments more easily, St. Peter also acknowledges the setbacks of online debate. 

Online debate seems to have a different atmosphere. Both St. Peter and sophomore Jacob Eiffler, a Public Forum debater, agree that the atmosphere of an in-person tournament is different from that of an online tournament. Such differences include being unable to talk directly to your opponent and shake their hand, not being able to receive visual feedback from judges, and having delayed start times in the difficult adjustment phase. 

While the atmosphere and interactions may be different, the prep load for debaters has remained consistently heavy.  

“Over quarantine and summer vacation, I’d spend three to five hours or more per day speaking with other debaters and learning about debating or doing independent research,” St. Peter said.  

On the other hand, the speech world has taken a different turn from the debate world, which was able to shift into online formatting more easily. Sophomore Lily Carras, who is both a speech captain and the youngest captain on the team, saw her regular event of Impromptu Speaking removed from many tournaments. 

 I plan to head to Humorous Interpretation to account for my lost event, Carras said. 

With two of the biggest events knocked out by the pandemic, Impromptu and Extemporaneous Speaking, Carras believes the year will be more difficult, but on a lighter note, the responsibility of planning trips has been taken off her shoulders by Coronavirus. 

Overall, big changes have arrived for the Speech and Debate world while it adjusts to the pandemic’s pressures.  

“It’s a different feeling; the team feels the same for the most part—same great people—but more than anything, it feels like my team is larger now,” St. Peter said