North junior Satee Corneh gives her Original Oratory virtually for the judges in the Iowa Forensic League State Tournament.

Like many things in life over the past year, high school forensics has gone virtual for 2020-21. Rather than speeches and debates being presented to a room of judges, they are done in front of computer screens. But for students at North and Roosevelt high schools, that hasn’t changed the significance of the activity or the meaning of the results.

R Hearts

Senior members of Roosevelt High School’s debate team show off their “R Hearts” good luck charms.

Take Saata Corneh, a junior at North High School. Last Friday was the Iowa Forensic League State Tournament. Saata was competing in the Original Oratory division. In front of her, in a room at North, was a laptop with the judges rating her performance. In the end, she was the state runner-up in the category, a mere 0.05 points from tying for first place.

Saata’s success is a shining example of recent growth and improvements in the speech and debate program at North. This success is not going unnoticed. Last month the West Iowa District of the National Speech and Debate Association honored Jocelynn Klos as the new coach of the year along with principal Ben Graeber as the administrator of the year.

North is also leading the way in these more virtual times, too. In January they hosted the Polar Bear Open, the first DMPS school to sponsor an online speech and debate tournament. Students and judges from a half-dozen states took part in the competition. In addition to playing host, the “home team” came out on top in the oratory division at the event.

A few miles across town, Roosevelt High School has been something of a perennial power in speech and debate, with a long list of state champions and national qualifiers over the years. And while the forum may be different this year, their success hasn’t missed a beat.

For one thing, their leader – Loan Nguyen – was named Coach of the Year for the West Iowa District of the National Speech and Debate Association and nominated for the Coach of the Year Award from the Iowa Forensic League.

Three Roughriders have also qualified for this year’s National Speech and Debate Tournament, thanks to being champions in their events at the West Iowa Districts: Cael Fitch in Humorous Interpretation, Roaa Kordeir in Program Oral Interpretation, and Kyle Westin in Congressional Debate and Extemporaneous Speaking.

Roosevelt also earned several honors at last week’s Iowa Forensic League State Tournament, including finishing 3rd in the Speech sweepstakes, based on the accumulation of speech points at the state tourney. In addition, several individual accolades were earned:

  • 1st in US Extemporaneous Speaking: Kyle Westin
  • 2nd in Humorous Interpretation: Cael Fitch
  • 2nd in Spontaneous Speaking: Kyle Westin
  • 4th in Humorous Interpretation: Andrew Israel
  • 3rd in Congressional Debate: Weston Wise
  • 6th in Congressional Debate: Kyle Westin
  • 8th in Congressional Debate: Roaa Kordeir
  • Semifinalist in Original Oratory: Isabelle Brace and Emmy Krone
  • Semifinalist in Poetry and Spontaneous Speaking: Riah Malloy
  • Semifinalist in Spontaneous Speaking: Weston Wise

Like North, Roosevelt was competing as well as hosting. In late February they held The Tournavelt, which welcomed 28 schools from Iowa and ten other states plus Guam to their virtual competition.

While Roosevelt’s success in speech and debate no doubt results from the hard work of the students and their coaches, they hope some good luck will also play a role. For the past several years, seniors on the team have made “R Hearts,” a token to be carried by their teammates during major tournaments. Although the impact of the “R Hearts” may be hard to prove it’s also hard to argue – or debate – its success.

Speech and debate events may have taken on a different look this year in response to the pandemic, but students at North and Roosevelt have shown they can thrive and succeed in their activities during a school year that has seen its ups and downs.

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