Falmouth High School speech, debate team shows skill

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FALMOUTH — Attending a speech and debate tournament is like watching a court case combined with a poetry slam – and that’s the experience members of the team at Falmouth High School hope to share with the community at an upcoming showcase.

More than a dozen students on the team have qualified to take part in two national tournaments later this spring. The showcase, which will be held 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, April 3, at the high school, is a fundraiser to help get them there.

Coach Jessie Grearson said the event is also a chance to “raise our profile as a school team.” The suggested donation is $5 and the showcase includes refreshments and a raffle.

In January the speech team won its first state title, while the debate team took third place. In addition, Grearson said, “(we also) saw a record number of students qualify for both national speech and debate tournaments.”

Overall, she said nine students would attend the Catholic Forensic League tournament in Washington, D.C., over Memorial Day weekend and six will attend the National Speech and Debate tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in June.

“These tournaments are amazing events and qualifying for them involves fierce competition from teams all around Maine,” Grearson said.

Along with next week’s showcase, the speech and debate team is also participating in crowdfunding on the Edco website. The goal is to raise a total of $15,000, which would cover the entire cost of sending students from Falmouth to the national tournaments.

The debate team at Falmouth High was founded in 2008 and the speech team was added in 2013, Grearson said.

She called the two activities, “one of the best investments of co-curricular time that students can make,” saying research shows participating in speech and debate gives students “excellent returns … in terms of developing (their) writing, research and communication skills.”

Juniors Sophie Baker and Caitlin Bull are the speech team captains and both will be attending at least one of the national tournaments this spring. Ellie Rudnick and Catherine Carpenter, also both juniors, are the captains of the debate team and they, too, will be going to the national tournaments.

Baker said speech consists of 12 different events that include reading prose and poetry, writing original speeches and doing interpretations of humorous essays, among other activities. On the debate side there are three categories, public forum, Lincoln Douglas and Congress, Rudnick said.

All four students said participating in speech and debate involves countless hours of reading, writing, research and preparation.

Baker said in speech, students are judged on vocal delivery, enunciation, gestures and blocking.

This speech and debate season she has performed a humorous piece called “Warning Signs,” by Allie Brosh, and a poetry piece called “The Crickets Have Arthritis,” by Shane Koyczan.

At the upcoming national tournaments, Bull will perform an original oratory speech, which she said is “a call to action” that’s all about how women are judged for how they speak. During the speech and debate season, she also performed an original piece on left-handed people, among others.

Baker is the one who had the idea for next week’s showcase. She and Bull will emcee the event, which Baker said is “a way to showcase what speech and debate are all about.”

Rudnick and Carpenter are not yet sure what topic they’ll debate at the showcase, but Rudnick said it would be something that’s been in the news recently, such as standardized testing of students or North Korea.

She said debate is based on “facts, evidence and statistics” and is a way to counter information that’s often skewed in the mainstream media, adding it’s important to find “unique arguments and dig deep” into whatever topic is assigned.

What all four most enjoy about participating in speech and debate is, while the competition itself may be fierce, the activity is really all about building friendships and community.

Speech and debate tournaments often last all day and between rounds Baker said students all “play games, eat and drink a lot of coffee” together.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Sophie Baker, left, Caitlin Bull, Ellie Rudnick and Catherine Carpenter are the speech and debate team captains at Falmouth High School. They have all qualified to compete in national tournaments this spring, and will demonstrate what speech and debate are all about at an April 3 public showcase.