Lions and Lambs and Eagles Oh My
For First-Ever Virtual Nationals
There’s a famous idiom that describes the month of March as coming in like a lion. March, 2020 was no different for The Screamin’ Eagles. The team had just come off their 23rd straight Southern California Debate League Championship and getting ready for the National Qualifying Tournament, State Championships and the league’s Novice Championships. Gabspeech was roaring like a lion.
Then it happened. The world came to a slow halt. Everything promising about the last 9 weeks of school got cancelled piece by piece. And just like that, March went out like a lamb.
When April came up on the calendar and all seemed lost for The Screamin’ Eagles, the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) announced they would create the first ever, Online National Championship Tournament and make it happen with only 90 days of preparation.
While sports leagues all across America were suspending or canceling their season, the NSDA looked adversity in the face and quickly transformed. In turn, local officials put their collective heads together to devise a numeric formula to effectively and fairly select the students who would represent the East LA County / Orange County League at this first ever virtual National Tournament.
With so much change, so many challenges and so much literal distance between coaches and their students all across America, the Nationals would not be the great draw that it has been for the past 90 plus years. Online just doesn’t feel like live. A lot of people would be turned off to the idea.
Nope. The students all across America jumped at the chance. They rose to the challenge. The 2020 National Speech and Debate Championships were the largest in the history of the tournament. The week long competition featured over 6,600 competitors and 3,500 judges from over 1,400 schools. After setting up over 900 virtual competition classrooms, the NSDA hosted over 4,000 zoom meetings over six days of competition. Once again, the NSDA was hosting the largest academic competition in the world.
It wasn’t easy for the 18 GabSpeech National Qualifiers to prepare for the tournament. They had to have zoom meetings with coaches and their teammates. They had to practice in their bedrooms, their garages, and in their front yards.
In a blink of an eye, the entire coaching staff went from practicing in the great speech room to figuring out how to work security features on zoom meetings. The speech boards had to be replaced by google classroom.
“I didn’t even have a district email account yet,” commented one of the team’s assistant coaches. “The next thing I know, I’m using google classroom and my new school account is overflowing with emails and notices. It happened so fast, but we somehow made it work.”
Teachers and coaches all over America will tell you student motivation and participation were at all-time lows during distance learning. Junior Bianca Lua saw it as just another challenge to face. “I found myself being overwhelmed by the preparation for Nationals,” Lua stated. “I kept wanting to put off the work. But I learned when you just do it, the stress goes away. Ultimately, my love for speech pushed me to keep working.”
“Motivation is always an underappreciated aspect of teaching. Distance learning and ‘lockdown’ just exacerbated existing problems” said one Screamin’ Eagles Coach. “Many of our students, especially the seniors, became highly unmotivated. Our team really feeds off the energy they collectively create in the classroom. When they aren’t physically around each other, we have to find other ways. Luckily many of our student leaders and our entire coaching staff really stepped up, found the drive, and created an incredible environment for our team to thrive.”
And Thrive they did. After the first six preliminary rounds of competition concluded and the original 200-400 original entries in each event were narrowed down to the top 60, The Screamin’ Eagles had half their team still in competition.
When the two octo-final rounds were completed at the end of the fourth day of competition, the top 30 in each event were announced. Sophomores Geraldine Ly and Alex Lai advanced in the Duo Interpretation event. Fellow Sophomore, Melanie Hsiang, was listed among the quarter-finalists for Program Oral Interpretation. Defending State Champion and 2019 National Finalist, Felicia Tang, was among the top 30 for her event of Informative Speaking.
Two quarter-final rounds would determine who would compete in the National Semi-Finals. “Semis are always the goal,” said one of the GabSpeech Coaches. “Anyone in the top 14 who isn’t a senior, automatically qualifies for next year, so that’s fantastic. And all 14 are exceptional, so it’s a great group of people to get to perform with.” This also meant GHS has had at least one student advance to at least the National Semi-Finals for the eight straight year and 17th time in the past 20 years.
Senior Felicia Tang, who placed 4th at last year’s national championships, and therefore automatically qualified for this year’s competition, made it to the semis again this year. Melanie also advanced to the top 14 and thus became The Screamin’ Eagles first qualifier for the 2021 Nationals. The two became the 41st and 42nd students from Gabrielino to make it all the way to the National Semi-Finals.
At the end of the fifth day of competition, the top six competitors in each event were announced to perform in the 13th and final round. The events and the code numbers scrolled across the screen. Melanie was on the list. “I was shocked and ecstatic when I saw my code on the screen. It was crazy to think I was one of the top six in the Nation,” Melanie remarked. “Just to auto-qual for next year by getting to semis, that was amazing. I was so humbled and blessed to watch myself in the final round. I am so proud to be able to represent GabSpeech.”
Felicia placed 10th in her category and ended her illustrious speech career by performing in an incredible 31 rounds of competition at the National Championships, which is the sixth most out of the almost 300 GHS students who have qualified for Nationals. “It was an interesting experience (to do it online),” Felicia stated. “But it certainly was not as hot in LA for Nationals as it would have been if we were actually competing in New Mexico like we were supposed to.”
Melanie ranked second in the final round and placed 4th overall in America. She became the 19th Gabrielino Student to speak in the National Final Round. The team was awarded the National School of Excellence Award for placing among the top 20 teams in the entire country for the 13th straight year. Overall, the team placed 13th and 6th in America in the Speech category.
Junior, Annica Wu, perfectly summed up the entire experience, “online Nationals this year was very different from Nationals in Dallas last year. Although it was disappointing that we couldn’t travel with our team, it opened my eyes to the future of speech and debate tournaments. Because everything was online, I was able to scrimmage debaters from other states which probably wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic. Even though it was online, I still learned a lot. It was a fantastic experience. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to compete at Nationals for the second straight year. This experience was unparalleled to any other.”
One of the long time members of the coaching staff reflected, “this was not easy. Our kids and coaching staff really stepped up. You have to be able to adapt and evolve. And we did. The NSDA took on a huge challenge and went way above and beyond what any of us dreamed they could do in 90 days. I’m really glad our students got to experience the tournament. I hope everyone who participated understands that life will throw us challenges. And I hope they will remember this particular challenge they faced. I hope they remember the culture of excellence and persistence they were a part of on GabSpeech. And hopefully they will be able to draw upon this experience to meet and overcome all the challenges they may face throughout their lifetimes. We are all so proud of the students, coaches, and this entire speech and debate program.”
The school year may have changed in March by a virus, but Gabspeech made sure it ended like an Screamin’ Eagle. That idiom probably won’t become as famous. But hey, Happy Summer and congrats to the GHS 2020 Nationals Team. Way to go Screamin’ Eagles!!
Screamin’ Eagle Sophomore Soars to National Final Round
It certainly wasn’t the way she planned for the season to end when sophomore Melanie Hsiang began her second year on The Screamin’ Eagles Speech and Debate Team. But it couldn’t have turned out much better.
In the 25-year history of the Gabrielino Speech and Debate Program, only 18 other students had ever advanced to the National Final Round. Only two sophomores had made it, and they were twins, so combining their experience, it was like one senior.
Melanie, or “Melmo” as team super-fan, two-year-old Dakota Lee, calls her, started working on her new speech after competing at the 2019 National Championships in Dallas, Texas. It began just like every other speech year. Compete at some invitational tournaments, some league tournaments, judge a few novice meets and hopefully qualify for State. She accomplished each of those tasks.
When Gabrielino shut down for the year back in March due to the pandemic, Melanie was getting ready to compete in the California State Speech and Debate Championships for the second straight year. As a freshman, Melanie placed fourth in the State and was on track to finish close to the top again this year.
Luckily for Melanie, her teammates, and over 6,000 other students in America, the National Speech and Debate Association took on the monumental task of moving the National Championships to an online platform and thus allowed the speech and debate season to end in a proper fashion.
Instead of sitting around thinking about how this year won’t be like her trip to Nationals last year, held in Dallas, Texas, Melanie immediately began preparing for her final competition. She spent countless hours practicing her speech in zoom meetings with her coaches and teammates. She went over her speech in her bedroom, bathroom and living room; basically anywhere she could to polish her performance to compete with the best in America.
While adapting to distance learning, Melanie and the seventeen other Screamin’ Eagles who qualified for Nationals had to master independent learning, advanced level time management and prepare for their toughest competition of the year. It was nine weeks of school stress plus a couple more weeks of pre-nationals super speech stress. Through it all, Melanie kept her grades up, continued her speech work and counted down the days until Nationals.
After three days of competition, twelve rounds of zoom meeting performances and making it through three different online announcements of “breaks” for advanced levels, Melanie saw her name listed to compete in the National Final round. Over two hundred students had qualified for Nationals in her event, Program Oral Interpretation. The field had been narrowed down to the top six.
“I was shocked and estatic when I saw my code on the screen’” Melanie remarked. “It was crazy to think I was one of the top six in the Nation.”
Since the tournament was online, Melanie had the opportunity to watch the round with her parents. “We were able to hook the computer up to the television, so everyone could watch,” she stated.
Melanie’s family, and everyone in America with a decent internet connection could see her perform. And just a few hours later they all watched as Melanie joined her final zoom meeting of the tournament to virtually be named the fourth place competitor in POI in all of America for 2020.
After the awards, messages flooded the team’s Instagram page. Teammates, team parents and alumni all congratulated her on a fantastic performance. Melanie gushed. “just to auto-qual for next year by getting to semis, that was amazing. I was so humbled and blessed to watch myself in the final round. I am so proud to be able to represent GabSpeech.” She even made a point to go online and virtually thank her coaches for all their help and support.
Here’s an interesting fun fact. The only other sophomores to perform in the National Finals placed fifth, together, in Duo Interpretation, 2014. So, Melanie is the highest placing sophomore in the 26-year history of the Gabrielino Speech and Debate Team.
Next year, Melanie’s junior year, will start soon and how it looks is anyone’s guess. It probably won’t look anything like normal. Regardless of the situation, appearance, or platform, Melanie will continue to prepare and practice in pursuit of perfecting her performance. She will, however, know she is already qualified for the 2021 National Championships. Her only hope will be that several of her teammates will be able to join her in Iowa (or online) next June.
Way to go Melmo!! We are so proud of you!!
Academic All-Americans: A Perfect 10
When National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) named the 2020 Academic All-Americans, ten Screaming Eagles were on the list. 19 qualifications to the State Championships, 10 to Nationals, a handful of State Finalists, A State Champion and 4th place in all of America. That’s a pretty impressive list.
To get on the list, students had to complete five semesters of high school, earn a grade point average (GPA) of 3.7, or a 3.5 GPA with a minimum ACT score of 27 or an SAT score of 1300, and attain at least 750 National Speech and Debate Association (NSAD) points in competition. The NSDA is the second largest honor society in the United States next to the National Honor Society (NHS).
Senior Co-Captain, Jaden Raymundo leads the team of outstanding Gabrielino seniors. Brandon Du, Khin Han, Starlee Hoc, Lin Knudsen, Francesca Pondevida, Felicia Tang, Raymond Tran, Sam Villescas, and Katherine Xie round out the group of 10.
The team released a statement commending the students. “The Class of 2020 Screaming Eagles continued the long history of excellence in the academic and competition classrooms. We are excited to have the national organization honor these fantastic students. We are certain this group of students will go on and continue to make enormous positive impacts in the world.”
These Screamin’ Eagles have accomplished a great deal in their four years at Gabrielino. Congrats. And to Starlee, Jaden, Felicia, and Sam, best of luck at Nationals in June as you continue to add to the legacy of the 2020 GabSpeech Senior Class
The Screamin’ Eagles have consistently placed in the top 13 schools in America and have been THE top program in the southern half of California for 15 of the past 18 years. Only one or two of those schools ahead of us in America are Title 1 schools (low socioeconomic schools). Speech and Debate is an activity greatly favoring rich students and schools.
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Gabrielino High School Speech & Debate Team
1327 S. San Gabriel Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Payable to: Gabrielino HS Speech Team