By Sarah Hammeke
Despite a nationwide stay-at-home order due to COVID-19, there’s no stopping Webster’s Forensics and Debate Team. After the pandemic forced national tournaments to cancel, the team brought speech and debate home through online tournaments and showcases.
Head coach Gina Jensen says so far, the team has competed in the IPDA Online Championship and an online debate tournament. During the online tournament, competitors used webcams to debate in real time on a special debate platform. They were even provided a virtual room to discuss arguments with their coaches and teammates, as well as a room to compete in, just like an in-person tournament. Team president Daniella Piazzi says it was interesting to experience debate from a different format.
“Overall, it was a wonderful experience and, although I didn’t win, I didn’t feel like I was disadvantaged,” Piazzi said. “Even though it was online and it felt odd, I had the same experience and feedback that I would have had in person.”
Additionally, the team is planning an end-of-year virtual showcase for the pieces it prepared for nationals to replace the showcase usually held on campus. This year, team members will record their pieces from home – including poetry, persuasive speaking, impromptu speaking and dramatic interpretation- and then upload them to YouTube. They will be put together and featured on the team’s page so others can see what the team has been working on throughout the year.
Still, despite remote substitutes, senior Julianna Ness says team members are sad they could not travel to compete in person.
“For me, it was disappointing since it would have been my last nationals at Webster,” Ness said. “I understood the situation, but it still hurt when I got the first news about it.”
Webster Forensics ordinarily competes in three different national tournaments but was particularly looking forward to the National Comprehensive Tournament sponsored by forensics honor society, Pi Kappa Delta (PKD). The tournament, set to be held in San Diego, draws hundreds of competitors from colleges across the country each year.
“Pi Kappa Delta rises above them all,” says PKD board member and Webster team treasurer John Wallis. “PKD is an organization that makes everyone feel welcome…You can share your story without fear of ridicule or judgment.”
Coming back from a fifth-place finish at PKD nationals last year, Webster Forensics was eager to set its eyes on the prize again. The team worked hard through the school year, practicing, attending retreats and competing. Team members traveled across the country to tournaments, accumulating success at nearly every competition they attended.
Jensen says she was disappointed they were not able to build on that at nationals.
“We had already beaten our most recent record for awards sitting at 165,” Jensen explained. “Given all of our success and how well we did at the state tournament, I believe we would have flown past this record and hit over 200 awards.”
Despite setbacks, the team is staying in touch and setting its sights on next year. The team communicates regularly in group chats and gets together weekly via Zoom for “Forensic Fridays.” There, they can discuss team business, such as upcoming tournaments and the showcase. The get-togethers also allow the tight-knit group to see one another.
“The team itself is a strong group of people, so no matter what happens (we) will all be able to come together in order to keep close friendships and successes in speech and debate,” Ness said.
The Webster Forensics showcase will be uploaded to the team’s YouTube channel in mid-May. Webster faculty and students are encouraged to give the page a visit.