Twenty-nine students and eleven coaches returned from the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Birmingham, Alabama in June, bringing with them trophies and awards earned from the competition.
Over 5,000 students from state districts traveled to Birmingham to compete in the weeklong tournament from June 19 to 23. Over 30 states and six countries took part at the national level.
When asked about his first national tournament, Nathaniel Snodgrass said, “The trip was a whole new experience that taught me the value of teamwork, friendship, and the passion so many have for speech and debate. I only hope that more kids here in the CNMI get involved in the monthly competitions.”
For the middle school division, majority of the team advanced to the next rounds. Vivien Liu made it to the quarterfinal round of Dramatic Interpretation. Vinson Bacani and Elaine Fernandez advanced to the quarterfinal round of Storytelling, and Tioni Reyes advanced to the quarterfinal round of Poetry Reading. James Park made it to the semifinal round in Poetry.
Vladimir Radge Palma advanced to the final round and was ranked fifth in the nation for Dramatic Interpretation. Palma enjoyed his first time at the nationals. “Competing with the best of the best and knowing that you made it with them felt so good,” Palma told Saipan Tribune.
Jonathan Wolf advanced to the semifinal round in Humorous Interpretation and was ranked second in Prose Reading. “It was a tough competition and I believe, as long as we strive hard and we are determined to reach our goal, no one can stop us in fulfilling our best. I pray that I will be blessed again next year so I can make our islands proud once again,” Wolf said.
Ashley Sikayun, NJSDA trip coordinator, who highlighted the importance of joining speech and debate contests, said its value goes beyond the public speaking component, “which is of course very important in itself. I’ve seen students who join speech and debate become much more confident. They are also more open to trying new things because they had to put themselves out there, they learned how to work hard; they found their voice and used it to impact others.”
For the high school division, nearly half of the team made it to the next rounds. Kelvin Wolf and Jeff Matthew Melchor made it to the Top 200 in their categories. Jeremiah Fernandez and Edson Valdisimo made it to the third round in Storytelling, ranking them in the Top 85 in the nation.
Kate Ishida advanced to the Top 40 in Storytelling and Top 100 in Poetry reading.
Yu Jin Lee advanced to the fifth round in Prose and Poetry reading, ranking her in the Top 100. Lee has been attending the national tournament since sixth grade. “Throughout my seven years of NJSDA and NSDA, and even the years before of PGFC, speech and debate has molded me into the person I am today,” Lee said. “The competitions have taught me perseverance, confidence, and the importance of teamwork. I hope that I serve as an encouragement for students to take part in NSDA even as I go off to college.”
Minna Ito set a new CNMI record for Expository Speaking, breaking into the quarterfinals and ranking in the Top 28 in the nation.
Yuuki Nishida received the Four-Year National Qualifier Award for attending the national tournament in a qualifying event for all four years of high school.
NSDA trip coordinator Dencio Manglona lauds the students for their continued success. “Before we head to nationals every year, Team CNMI promises to give their friends and family back home something to celebrate and this year did not disappoint. This was all possible thanks to the individuals who decided to give countless hours in the aim of being better communicators and better people.”
In 2014, the National Forensics League was renamed the National Speech and Debate Association. Manglona said, “Some of the competitors know it by an older name simply because their passion for speech brought them to the national tournament over six years ago when they were in junior high school and they have returned ever since then.”
“It was a memorable experience and I know Florida next year won’t quite be the same, but we’ll make the CNMI proud again.”
The students from 15 different private and public schools were trained and accompanied by their teacher coaches: Joy Jones, Tobed Smith, Manglona, Hazel Tudela, Kristine Wolf, Maria Mettao, Ashley Sikayun, Victoria Nishida, Lorelisa Espiritu, Grace Duran, and Ron Hodges.
Every year the CNMI Public School System and the federal programs office sends students to compete at the national level after they qualify by competing against other private and public schools at the regional level. Next year, the National Speech and Debate National Tournament will be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.