The brightest and best young speakers and debaters in the nation congregated at the Tournament of Champions (TOCs) from April 26 to April 29 at the University of Kentucky. The tournament is one of the largest and most competitive tournaments that the Speech and Debate team attends. MSJ competed with a pool of over four hundred teams and individuals in the fields of Humorous Interpretation, Dramatic Interpretation, Duo Interpretation, Extemporaneous Speaking, Public Forum Silver, and Public Forum Gold.
Despite tough competition, Speech performed admirably at TOCs, placing in every category they performed in. Speech Captain Senior Samir Banerjee placed third in Humorous Interpretation, Senior Rahul Iyer placed fourth in Dramatic Interpretation, and together the two placed eighth in Duo Interpretation. The three finalist awards won by the two seniors are notably the first three in the history of MSJ Speech.
The Speech team works on fluency and choreographing their facial expressions with their bodies to create perfect emotionally-resonant performances. Banerjee said, “We’re always the underdogs. Other schools bring professional coaches and support staff, whereas the most support we get from the school is publicity [through] these Smoke Signal articles. Other than that, we run 100% on donations, blood, sweat, and tears.”
Speech and Debate Coach Brandon Stewart said, “All the preparation, all the work the students have put in—it really has helped. And I know for some, [they have] gone from not qualifying at earlier tournaments to now being a finalist at [TOCs].”
The Debate team put up a valiant effort but none of the teams advanced to the elimination rounds. The Public Forum Silver team of Sophomores Sabrina Cai and Serena Mao produced a 4-3 record, while the Public Forum Gold team of Junior Dylan Zhang and Senior Arunav Gupta scored a 3-4 finish. Notably, the MSJ superteam duo of Junior Rithvik Koppurapu and Senior Ishan Maunder in Public Forum Gold started off with a promising 4-0 start, but lost three consecutive rounds afterward to drop to 4-3 overall. None of MSJ’s teams advanced to the elimination rounds. Zhang said, “The overall team started the year relatively slow except for our top team of Rithvik and Ishan. As the year progressed, we had at one point, five teams poised to attend the TOCs in the [Public Forum] Gold division. When the postseason approached, most of us slowed down … but everyone ended up as better and more experienced debaters.”
As for the Speech and Debate season as a whole, Stewart said that both teams had an excellent season this year with Koppurapu and Maunder having the most bids in the nation. A bid, loosely speaking, can be seen as an award that debaters can win by advancing into the later rounds of the tournament. At the season’s end, teams with at least two bids qualify for the TOCs. Stewart adds that Koppurapu and Maunder did exceptionally well this season and took first place at three tournaments. Stewart said, “We had a great group going this year and I would love for that to get even bigger, and that comes from the team working hard and helping each other.”
Photo Courtesy Senior Samir Banerjee