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Seven Los Alamos High School Hilltalkers earned the chance to go to a competition that Head Coach Noel Trujillo described as the World Series of debating.
After taking first and second places at the New Mexico District Tournament on March 25, 26 and 27 at Albuquerque Academy, Gannon Nelson, Ryan Marcus, Seth Jennings, Kathy Lin, Vickie Wang, Mei Lui and Sky Korber qualified to attend the National Forensic National Tournament.
This is not the only recognition the high school speech and debate team has earned. The school also received the National Forensic League District League trophy for sustained performance in speech and debate.
Additionally, Trujillo was awarded the Outstanding Speech, Debate and Theater Educator Award from the National Federation of State High School Associations.
The national speech and debate competition will be held in June in Kansas City, Mo.
At the national competition, Korber will compete in the Lincoln-Douglas debate, Nelson and Marcus will take part in the policy debates, Jennings and Lin will also compete in policy debate and Wang and Liu will participate in the public forum debate.
These seven debaters will be among a large number of high school competitors across the nation. Trujillo said the tournament is huge – more than 3,000 students will be at the competition. He added 250 students participate in each event.
The competition will be fierce but Assistant Coach Margo Batha said, “the experience you get and debating with the top debaters is something you don’t get all the time.”
Over the years, a large number of local students have joined in on the experience of going to nationals. Trujillo said between 50-60 students have gone to the national competition. The best showing, he said, was in 1996 when a student took third place in extemporaneous.
Win or lose, Batha said the Hilltalkers will make the most of their experience in Kansas City. They plan to do some sightseeing and attend a baseball game.
Although some students are veterans to the national tournament – Nelson and Marcus have both been to the tournament before – the team is excited to attend this competition.
Wang said, “Just the opportunity to go to such a highly ranked tournament (is great) since we (Wang and Liu) haven’t gone to any national tournaments.”
Liu said, “Just for the experience so maybe we can do better next year.”
Jennings said he and Lin were going with a similar attitude. He said they were competing for the “fun of it.”
Korber said he hopes to learn how to become better at debating through this high level of competition.
The competitors may be modest about their chances at the national tournament but Trujillo emphasized how great this team has worked.
“It’s been a very successful year … this is an accumulation of some very hard work on the part of the kids,” he said.
Trujillo’s own efforts awarded him the Outstanding Speech, Debate and Theater Educator Award.
He said his first thought upon receiving this award was, “Now I can retire.”
Trujillo has taught for 36 years. He added, “For me, our activity has always been about students … simply give them an opportunity where they can learn about themselves and the world.”
“Our activity is about students. My philosophy is I want them to learn,” Trujillo said. About 35 students are currently in the high school speech and debate program.
The high school team was created in 1963 by Paul Black. Trujillo said only three head coaches have been involved in the Hilltalkers since its inception.
Batha added the debate team has enjoyed a lot of support from the community.