• June 24, 2020

    Sophomore cracks top 10 in national speech & debate tourney

    Rushikesh Kulkarni An Upper St. Clair High School sophomore earned the school’s highest finish ever at the NSDA National Speech & Debate Tournament, which concluded June 20, 2020. Rushikesh Kulkarni placed eighth nationally in the International Extemporaneous Speaking event – automatically qualifying to compete in next year's national tournament as a Semifinalist.

    Originally planned for Albuquerque, N.M., the National Speech & Debate national tournament was moved to an online format due to COVID-19. Tournament events were conducted Sunday, June 14 through Saturday, June 20, 2020. The Upper St. Clair High School Speech & Debate Team is coached by teachers Ben Edwards, social studies; Dave Watson, English; and Kate Shuey, social studies; as well as Ben Stalnaker and Reed Karsh.

    “To cap off what was a truly bizarre year, our team did a remarkable job at a marathon virtual National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) Nationals this week,” Mr. Edwards said. “Several students advanced to ‘break rounds’ (rounds after preliminaries) sometimes in multiple events.”

    Debate, Congress, and Extemporaneous Speaking rounds were performed live. Speech rounds were recorded the previous week and judges from around the country evaluated them as if they were live. In a speech event, an octofinalist ranks in the top 60 nationally, a quarterfinalist in the top 30, and a semifinalist in the top 14.

    “Never in my years as a coach have I ever seen such an explosive lineup of early breaks and last day finalists at an NSDA tournament,” Mr. Watson said. “Thank you to the great student competitors of USC and a big heartfelt thank you to Mr. Ben Edwards who bleeds speech and debate and who, along with a small cohort of fellow coaches and judges from across the country, kept our noble enterprise alive right to the end of the season.”

    National Speech & Debate National via Zoom The Public Forum Debate team of seniors Yash Jajoo and Devan Ekbote ended their high school careers with a break to the third day of competition, finishing in the top 100 in what is typically the most competitive event in Speech & Debate. 

    Junior Annika Chaves also advanced to the Dramatic Interpretation Octofinals in her second career nationals break. Annika added a terrific run in Poetry Reading, her supplemental event, in Quarterfinals.

    Senior Basir Khan was the last debater standing from the team graduating in 2020. He went undefeated on the first day of supplemental Extemporaneous Debate and competed a grueling 16+ hours of competition in two days to finish 6-2 in the largest event at NSDA Nationals to finish in the Top 30.

    Junior Maddie Nolen took advantage of the time off from school to prepare three different supplemental events in addition to her main event, Humorous Interpretation.

    “When she did not break in Humorous Interpretation, she learned that she broke in all three supplemental events she competed in, which could not have been equaled by too many other students nationwide,” Mr. Edwards said. “She made the most of those opportunities, advancing to Octofinals in Prose and Storytelling, and Semifinals in Prepared Prompt Speaking – finishing ninth overall.”

    Junior Antara Cleetus took a similar path to success, equaling Maddie's Semifinal appearance in Prepared Prompt Speaking, finishing 14th.

    “Both of them are the first Semifinalists in a Speech supplemental event in Upper St. Clair history,” Mr. Edwards said.

    Also qualifying for Nationals were seniors Matt Hornak and Vivek Babu, junior Samuel Levy, and sophomore Dev K. Patel.

    Since 1931, the National Speech & Debate Tournament has elevated public speaking. Every summer, more than 6,000 middle and high school students travel to the largest academic competition in the world to debate current events, voice their views, and share their stories.

    NSDA National Speech & Debate Tournament
    Upper St. Clair High School competitors

    (Main events are listed first and supplemental events are listed after the semicolon) 

    Matt Hornak: World Schools Debate 3-3 Record; Extemporaneous Debate
    Basir Khan: World Schools Debate 3-3 Record; Round 8 of Extemporaneous Debate (6-2)
    Vivek Babu: House; Expository, Extemporaneous Debate
    Yash Jajoo & Devan Ekbote: Public Forum Debate Round 8 (4-2 Prelim Record) 

    Annika Chaves:  Dramatic OctofinalsPoetry Quarters
    Sammy Levy:  Humorous; Prose 
    Maddie Nolen:  Humorous; Prose OctofinalsStorytelling OctofinalsImpromptu Semifinals
    Antara Cleetus:  Domestic Extemporaneous; Commentary, Impromptu Semifinals 

    Rushikesh Kulkarni:  International Extemporaneous Semifinals (Ineligible for supplementals)
    Dev Patel:  Domestic Extemporaneous; Commentary, Impromptu