Central debaters compete at Nationals

Five students join almost 7,000 others at National Speech & Debate contest in Iowa

Runners get faster with conditioning and sprints and musicians perfect their skills with scales and breathing exercises. Rishikar Gandham hones his skills with speaking drills.

The Hinsdale Central junior is one of five Central students to compete in the 2024 National Speech & Debate Tournament in Des Moines June 16-21. The five students competed among 6,700 students representing 1,500 schools from across the country. The competition ultimately crowned 41 champions in events ranging from poetry to several styles of debate.

Representing Hinsdale Central was the public forum debate team of Finn Schmeltz and Eshan Doshi, Lincoln-Douglas debaters Akash Saini and Gandham, and Aidan Barbaran, who competed in humorous interpretation.

Assistant coach Matthias Austin, who accompanied the competitors to Des Moines, said Central sends a handful of students to the national tournament nearly every summer. To qualify, students must place in the top three at a state district tournament, three of which are held in Illinois each year.

"It's a very, very competitive tournament," Austin said.

The public forum debate team of Schmeltz and Doshi had several weeks to research, prepare and practice their stance on whether the United States should form a bilateral trade agreement with the European Union. Likewise, Lincoln-Douglas debaters Saini and Gandham had their topic in hand well in advance, allowing them to carefully prepare their opinions and to consider their opponents' possible positions and responses.

"You debate both sides. You create an argument for both," said Gandham, who added Lincoln-Douglas to his personal debate arsenal just this year.

In this contest, Saini and Gandham were asked to consider whether a democracy should allow succession from

their government.

While each team defends just one side of the argument, which side they will debate isn't determined until the competition begins. The team must come to each debate with the ability to defend and promote either side.

While none of Central's competitors went far in the competition this year, each gained experience and skill to take into the next speech and debate season and beyond, Austin said.

"There's a lot to be gained just from watching the final rounds," Austin said.

Before the eventual winners complete their final performances, students who do not advance in their primary event are invited to compete in a secondary, or supplemental, event.

"It gives all of the students extra opportunities," Austin said.

After completing his competition in humorous interpretation, Barbaran went on to compete in storytelling. The debaters chose to compete in extemporaneous debate - a style of debate that allows competitors less than an hour to prepare their arguments.

Gandham said debate is helping him to gain skills that will serve him well beyond high school.

"Before debate, I was not good at speaking at all," said Gandham, who will soon enter his third year on the debate team. He said debate helps him to think quickly and to respond with confidence, no matter the subject or audience.

"My dream goal is to become a corporate lawyer and start my own law firm," he said.

First he will put his speaking and debate skills to use as a congressional intern for U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-8, IL) this summer.

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean