While high schoolers change sports across seasons, those who compete with the New Jersey Speech & Debate League are three-season speakers. From September to June, the NJSDL presides over twelve local competitions and offers students the chance to compete at prestigious national tournaments, including the National Speech & Debate Tournament and the National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament. In many ways, the New Jersey’s league is unique for its incredibly tight-knit community. Across the United States, most leagues cover only a certain city or state district, yet the single, unified New Jersey League brings competitors together irrespective of school with pride to compete singularly for New Jersey.
The NJSDL season has two phases: development season and championship season. From September to February, students compete both locally and nationally at major college campuses including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Nova Southeastern with the aim to develop their pieces and presence for the later season. By March, the schedule spaces out with leveled championships. The State Championship, held at Hunterdon Central, hosts about 300 competitors, and winners in the fifteen varsity categories also win a Governor’s Award in Arts Education. Students then set their sights nationally, as they attend the District Championships to qualify to the National Tournaments, the Tournament of Champions, and the National Tournaments.
Despite its size, New Jersey’s league is incredibly dominant, arguably ranking in the top seven leagues across the United States. At each National Tournament, New Jersey had at least one finalist, a competitor who reached the top six out of hundreds in their category, each of whom had qualified out of even larger districts. Still, the largest accomplishment of the NJSDL’s 2017-2018 season came at the National Speech & Debate Tournament held by the National Speech & Debate Association, or NSDA. The competition, recognized as the largest academic tournament in the United States, hosts over 3,000 competitors from almost every state and U.S. territory.
To qualify for the NSDA National Tournament is regarded as one of the highest possible honors in competitive speech & debate, but to reach the finals or even win is a lifelong dream for leagues. New Jersey, in its time-honored tradition, achieved that dream with three competitors. Before they could reach the final round, these competitors spoke in thirteen preliminary and elimination rounds. Competitive pools of roughly 220 to 300 students, the best speakers & debaters from across America, were whittled down to a mere six. In Commentary, Kevin Mao of Montville High School placed third as just a sophomore. His final topic was to analyze the Tet Offensive, its significance and history. In United States Extemporaneous Speaking, Christopher Maximos from Delbarton School placed third for the second time. Christopher discussed President Trump’s influence on the GOP in the midterm elections in front of nearly 3,000 audience members. Finally, Kimberly Lee, a previous NJGAAE winner, rose to the top as the National Champion in Dramatic Interpretation. Kim’s performed the narrative of an adopted Korean soldier who explored her biological mother’s history as a World War II comfort woman.
At the core of each of these competitors success was the incredible support and coaching of the New Jersey Speech & Debate League. NJSDL’s District Chair, Mary Gormley of Montville High School, was recognized as the National Educator of the Year for Speech & Debate. Martin Page of Delbarton School was recognized with his first diamond, an honor that recognizes five years of coaching and merit points, which correspond to his students’ success. The New Jersey Speech & Debate League values its culture of collaboration, encouraging renowned coaches to partner with smaller programs, as to mentor them and their competitors. This mixture of distinguished leadership with a focus on partnership has provided the New Jersey Speech & Debate League with a storied legacy. As the League welcomes promising programs and competitors, it seems its future is even brighter than its past.