RANDOLPH, NJ—Members of the RHS Speech and Debate team successfully competed in Harvard University’s first-ever virtual speech and debate tournament.  Held from Feb. 12-15, the 47th Annual Harvard National Forensics Tournament, which Harvard hosted online this year, is the biggest and most globally diverse competition of the year for high school students.

“I would say Harvard this year was a lot different, but competing was just as much fun as it has been in the past,” said Brianna Nissel, the team president. “Although it was virtual, the team still came together as one. Everyone did absolutely amazing, and I'm so glad. Harvard was a great experience.”

As is true every year, the tournament featured a variety of events. Speech events included Humorous Interpretation, Duo Interpretation and Dramatic Interpretation among others, while Debate events included Congress, Lincoln-Douglas, Public Forum and more.

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Making an especially strong showing in the competition were RHS sophomores Conner Cafero and Jonah Perelman, both of whom broke to triple octafinals in the Junior Varsity Lincoln-Douglas Debate. This distinction means they placed among the top 64 students in an event featuring a total of 170 students from around the globe.

As a whole, the tournament featured students from 480 schools located in 38 U.S. states and seven foreign countries, including Canada, China, Dominican Republic, France, India, Singapore and Taiwan. Because tournament participants were situated across the globe, competitors’ time zones were dramatically different, with some competing at the crack of dawn.

In the past, the tournament was held on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This year, however, the campus was closed to competitors due to the pandemic. While RHS team members, especially the seniors, expressed their disappointment in missing out on certain rituals of this unique and popular trip—like taking the “T” to the Harvard campus or drinking bubble tea at the nearby Boston Tea Shop—they remained positive and worked diligently to prepare for the virtual tournament. 

“This year the Randolph team was able to make the best of a virtual year to compete in a variety of events, even if we weren't able to enjoy the typical snow in Cambridge, Massachusetts,” said Katie Burke, the head coach of the team who teaches social studies at the high school.

Stephen Barrow, the assistant coach of the team who teaches social studies and business at the high school, agreed. “It was not like the typical Harvard meet, where you have to get from room to room and building to building to your next competition round, and you have the possibility of walking around the campus and Cambridge,” he said. “However, this year did afford our students new exciting opportunities. Had it not been for virtual competition, our students would not have had the chance to be exposed to the number of international students—and their different competition styles—who were in attendance this year.” Barrow was also a first-time judge at the Harvard tournament.

 “I am so proud of our team not only for their pieces and cases, which they have spent many hours perfecting, but also because they are resilient in the face of an unprecedented season,” Burke said. “All of the success this year is due to the dedication and hard work of the students.”

Editors' Note : Sean Wattman is a student at Randolph High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Randolph.