South Albany and West Albany high schools both had students who qualified this year for the National Speech & Debate Association national tournament, held June 17-22 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

More than 5,000 students from all over the country, plus several international competitors, competed in a variety of divisions.

For South Albany, sophomore Pippa Richardson competed in four sessions of Student Congress. She debated on bills covering topics such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, sanctions in Ethiopia, birthright citizenship and more. 

"It was a trip filled with lots of fun and lots of learning," she said. "I got to see how students compete at the national level, and learn how to be more competitive and ready for next year at tournaments."

Senior Keith Stevens competed in six rounds of Humorous Interpretation, which requires participants to memorize and perform a 10-minute speech designed to make the audience laugh. 

Seniors Susie Montes and Andrew Nord competed for the Southern Oregon district in World Schools debate, for which the Southern Oregon district had named South Albany's Brandon Johnson as the coach.

In this event, participants are selected by their districts, along with three other students, to form an all-star team that then debates standout students from other states.

The Southern Oregon team went 4-2 in preliminaries and qualified for the elimination rounds, the first time in South Albany's history that students have advanced at nationals beyond the preliminary. The Oregon team beat teams from Kansas, Indiana, Washington, Taiwan and North Dakota before losing a close decision to a team from China.

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"This is an incredibly difficult thing to do at this level of competition," Johnson said of his team's work. "They far exceeded any expectations coming into this week."

Said Nord: "It was incredible being able to compete with and against so many people from much more diverse backgrounds than I've experienced in Oregon."

Montes said for her, the experience was something she wouldn't have sought on her own, but it made her a stronger speaker, more confident in her own voice and knowing it matters.

"It definitely was a life-changing experience, because I really challenged myself by going there," she said. "My coach pushed me to get this far. I'm really grateful for that."

For West Albany, juniors Megan Cox and Kayla Lesser competed in Duo Interpretation, which requires competitors to perform a piece of literature in 10 minutes. The two chose, "A League of Their Own."

"We did six rounds of speaking and ended up in the top 2 percent in the nation. We're the first students in West Albany's history to ever qualify for nationals," Cox said. "We are a little upset we didn't do better, but are thankful for the opportunity and beyond excited for the upcoming season."

Added Lesser: "This is our first year competing on the national circuit, and my first year doing speech, so we are in no way disappointed."