By Randy Arrington
LURAY — Last month the Luray High School Forensics and Debate team held its “Showcase Night” to display the talents of 18 students who have continued to build on a growing reputation of success for the young program.
When LHS first launched its forensics and debate team in 2018, the group had only six members among its ranks. There was some individual success in those early days, but team accolades were hard to achieve with so few categories covered at tournaments.
Now completing its fifth year, the LHS public speaking program celebrates a 2021-22 season that saw three times as many students engaged in the after-school activity and dominating performances at regional competitions. The Bulldogs were overall Sweepstake champions at both the Region 2A and 2A/B Super Region tournaments in March.
The program’s top performer, sophomore Sophia Williams, placed third in Storytelling with her rendition of “I Need My Monster” at the VHSL state finals at the end of March.
LHS students who participate in the forensics and debate program are members of three public speaking and debate leagues in Virginia — the Shenandoah Valley Forensics League, the Cosby Titan Invitational, and the Virginia High School League. The Bulldogs competed in eight events during the school year, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the first time some students had competed “live” and in person. “Virtual” competitions were held during the times of extreme social distancing.
The “in-person” element to this year’s competitions helped elevate the learning experience for a “public speaking” experience.
“Some of the big benefits of participating in the forensics and debate team is that students learn to interact with all types of people, and obviously it really helped for them to do that in person,” Gwen Burley, the team’s coach, told those gathered for the group’s April 7 “Showcase Night.”
“Students learn to prepare, research and stand up in front of other people and apply their speaking skills,” Burley said. “Ultimately this is all about great opportunities for the students…travel, personal achievement and self improvement.”
Burley is assisted with the program by Anthony Hammer (forensics) and Jeremiah Strunk (debate).
In debate, students conduct research on assigned topics in the areas of either domestic, international, economic or Virginia. The students begin new topic areas for each tournament. Each student must prepare a 2- to 3-minute speech in support of their own legislation presented to the Student Congress Chamber. Ideally, each senator generates two to three affirmation or negation statements to defend other students’ legislation.
Forensics includes 10 different categories of speech competition, from prepared readings of prose or poetry, to performed pieces in storytelling and humorous interpretation, and even extemporaneous speaking with the student preparing a speech on site.
Last month’s “showcase” presented students performing serious pieces about racial issues, humorous pieces about corndogs, and persuasive speeches about everything from Bitcoin to antitrust legislation.
As the budding program continues to grow in terms of both participation and accolades, here’s a look back at what the LHS Forensics and Debate team accomplished in its three biggest tournaments of 2021-22:
VHSL 2A/B Super Region — Overall Sweepstakes Champion
• 1st place — Isabel Carter, Rachel Dalzell, Adia Hill, Laurel Webb, Sophia Williams
• 2nd place — Ben Caudill, Juelian Warrick
• 3rd place — Lillian Jenkins, Lizzie Chu
• 4th place — Virginia Grieb, Marlowe Ryan
VHSL 2A Region — Overall Sweepstakes Champion
• 1st place — Isabel Carter, Rachel Dalzell, Marlowe Ryan, Laurel Webb, Sophia Williams
• 2nd place — Lizzie Chu, Ben Caudill, Juelian Warrick
• 3rd place — Virginia Grieb Lillian Jenkins
VHSL 1,2,3 North Debate — Champion runner-up
• 2nd place — Cassandra Mann, Student Congress
• Qualified for state — Summer Forder, Jozef Mason and Cassandra Mann