Niwot forensics team builds on past toward the future
February 26, 2020
Over the years, speech and debate kids have often joked, "We don't cut up dead bodies, but we might quote them."
First founded in Wisconsin in 1925, the National Speech & Debate Association, formally known as the National Forensics League, sought to motivate high school students to participate in speech and debate activities. Six years later, in 1931, the first tournament was held at Ripon College with 49 schools participating from across 17 states.
Students are able to participate in a variety of events under three categories:
Debate, which includes individual and partner debating, as well as other debate formats such as congressional.
Speech, where students may write an original piece, or may write a shorter, spontaneous speech using only pre-researched material.
Interpretation, which includes memorized individual and partner performances of a theatrical nature without the aid of props.
Niwot High School has had a debate team for many years, and has experienced much success in recent years. However, while the students enjoy winning at tournaments and festivals, the students all agree that the skills they gain from participation and the team dynamic--which is more like that of a family than a team--far outweigh the joy of placing well in competition.
"I've met a ton of people but also made some of my closest friends in high school," said team captain Nick Valin, a senior. He primarily focuses on a partner-debate event called Public Forum (PF) that focuses on current events. "You meet a lot of like-minded people, but also interesting people. Everyone on the team does a bunch of different things."
Fellow senior Luke Hair, another debater who instead focuses on Lincoln Douglas (LD) debate (inspired by the historical debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas and focuses more on values), said, "The best part about the team specifically is the amount of support we give each other... It's really like a family--you see people from all walks of life come together. It's not a one size only thing, it's a one size fits all."
All three students interviewed agreed on the inclusivity of the team. Valin's PF partner, junior Ben Goff agreed, saying that due to the wide variety of events, speech and debate as a whole can cater to a wide variety of students. "You're not going to find a closer group of people in the entire school, and it's going to make you more learned. It makes you a better person," explained Goff.
The team has certainly gone through a number of changes over the years. Up until a few years ago, Niwot competed as a tournament school but has recently switched to competing at festivals instead. While the general idea of competition remains the same--for debaters, going up against various opponents throughout the day; for speech and interpretation kids, performing their piece to a small group throughout the day--standard tournaments are dominated by larger, Class 5A schools, while festivals tend to cater to other schools.
The decision to switch came about as a sort of protest against those larger schools, many of them from the Denver school system. These schools, which tend to have more resources for their students, have long made it difficult for smaller schools like Niwot to compete on their level. For example, some of those resources are coming from carefully vetted debate evidence, sometimes even looked over by professionals, or experienced performers giving critiques/training and pieces known to win, to interpretation students.
However, while some degree of competition may have been lost from switching to the festival school circuit, Niwot's team has found other benefits. For one, the members have placed well in many of the tournaments, especially the debate students--Valin and Goff even won the state festival tournament in PF. The festivals are somewhat more relaxed, and because of that, many of the schools have developed close relationships, such as Niwot has,with the Alexander Dawson team.
The success at competition and within the team itself is evident, as is the students' dedication to the team as a whole and to each other.
"To me," said Hair, "Niwot Forensics was the biggest thing to shape my high school career."
Valin said, "I hope that the team keeps on some traditions, but I also hope that the team grows in ways that I can't even think of. Just be the team that cultivates success at tournaments but having fun. Above all, a team that stays a family, while it's getting larger, I want it to feel the same that people are together."
"I'm very proud," said Goff. "I'm grateful for him [Nick Valin, his partner], for my team, and to be debating for Niwot."