Speech and Debate Team Showcases Strong Speakers as Team Ascends

By Cameron Cowling and Kessie Ng, Clarion Staff

This year, the John F. Kennedy speech and debate team sent five people to the CHSSA California High School Speech Association state championships: Rohit Jhawar, Matthew Allin, Alison Newens, Sid Slesicki, and Cameron Lutz. The number is up from three entries last year. The event took place Friday, April 28th to Sunday, April 30th.

Jhawar, a freshman, reached the semi-finals in the state, ranked 22nd in the state, and became the highest ranked underclassman. Rohit said he only saw, “three or four other freshmen” and wanted to get more experience before going back to the state championships. Even though he exceeded his own expectations, he told The Clarion, “I’m definitely going to continue improving.”

The team took the time to honor their high-performing members at a showcase event, which was held Wednesday, May 24th.

After a warm, entertaining welcome from Cameron Lutz, the program featured some of its top performers of the year, including Jhawar, Allin, Newens, and Slesicki. Also included were Kaitlyn Kui, Bernadette Tropel, and Irene Lai.

Slesicki’s impromptu performance at the showcase tested his abilities to make a speech based on one of three random topics provided by the audience. His high performance at the California state championships showed off, as he delivered a speech on the lessons learned from owning a dog. In a matter of two minutes, Slesicki crafted a five minutes and ten seconds long speech. Out of over 400 entries in the state, Slesicki placed 21st.

Newens’ speech was a redelivery of a grieving mother’s, Rachel Muha’s, testimony in her son’s murder trial. She placed 29th in the entire state for her performance in Oratorical Interpretation (OI), in which speakers deliver a previously spoken speech. OI has been Newens’ category of choice since her freshman year.

“I like that it’s really dramatic and that I can interpret it my own way,” she explained in a digital interview.

Rohit Jhawar engaged in debate during the May 24 Speech & Debate event.

Jhawar and Allin concluded the night with a fierce debate on whether federal housing aid should be provided.

However, there was no debate on the benefits of speech and debate. Many recommend enrolling for the speech and debate class next year.

Ms. Sommer, the supervising teacher, said a lot of people want to join the team. She also seeks to retain most of the people that were already on the team. She is attempting to increase the “fun level” while trying to maintain the already academically rigorous program.

“I joined speech and Debate because I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and experience new things. At first, I was dreading Speech and Debate and did not want to go to any tournaments and wake up for zero period; But, as my sophomore and junior year went on, I started to enjoy speech and debate because of the new friends I made,” Newens wrote.

The team’s goal next year is to send ten people to the state competition. Sommer promised that she had, “really big plans at the beginning of the year.” Unfortunately, she did not detail those plans.  Despite no details on the plans, team members see positive improvement for the team.

“I see the team heading in a positive direction because we have been improving every year. I am very excited for my last year of Speech and Debate,” Newens predicted.

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