Center High debate, speech students advance to national competition

Yellow Rose District Debate Tournament draws crowd to Center

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Feb. 20 print edition of The Light and Champion.

Four Center High School debate and speech team members are among about 40 participants out of a field of more than 300 students from across much of Texas advancing to national competition.

The Yellow Rose District Debate Tournament was hosted in Center this past Thursday, Friday and Saturday with Center High School and First Baptist Church serving as host sites, according to Douglas Moore, Center High School debate coach. The tournament serves as qualifying event for students to advance the the National Speech and Debate Association National Tournament this summer.

Students from Plano, Temple, Midlothian, Round Rock, Mount Pleasant and other schools were in town with their parents and coaches.

Competition ran for more than 12 hours on both Thursday and Friday and wound up on Saturday with finals. Moore said when the judging was complete he had four students advancing to the NSDA National Tournament this summer in Dallas.

“Mark Perkins and Keaton Watlington qualified for NSDA Nationals in Duo Interp,” he said. Jack Callen Watlington qualified in Humorous Interpretation and CHS senior Esther Mergerson in Big Question Debate, Moore said.

Students representing CHS included Ellie Walker, Lesly Perez-Gonzalez, Keaton Watlington, Mark Perkins, Esther Mergerson, Jack Callen Watlington, Kristen Orsak, Obed Lopez and Jason McCollister, Moore said.

Serving as chair of the Yellow Rose District Tournament was Donna Szumila from Plano. She said while the qualifying tournament has been held throughout much of Texas over the past decade, Center has had the honor of hosting the event about four times.

“This is one of the largest geographic districts in the nation,” Szumila said. In past years the tournament has been held in Austin, Princeton and other cities, she said.

“We like to come to Center because this community has embraced us,” she said. “Center is off the beaten path but the welcome and hospitality we receive here is very special.”

In addition to the approximately 300 student participants, Szumila estimated the three-day event easily drew a crowd of between 400 and 450 with coaches, parents, volunteers and judges. The tournament results in filling up many of the city's hotel rooms, she said.

“What draws us all together is the common bond of the students,” Szumila said. “We're all very passionate about this.”

For many students getting involved in debate and speech competition can be life changing, she said.

“In my younger years I had a coach who changed the direction of my life,” Szumila said. “For a lot of students this can be a way out of the poor side of the tracks.”

She has spent time coaching her own child and now others and said volunteering to chair the district event is a worthwhile use of her time and a way to give back.

Szumila said only the top two contestants out of each event qualify to advance to the national tournament.

“The students who quality from the Yellow Rose to the national tournament will join more than 4,500 high school students from around the world in Dallas for a week of stellar competition,” she said. The students have worked hard to achieve the opportunity to represent their schools and now the district.

She said none of those opportunities would be possible without “the tireless efforts of the coaches” like Center High School's Moore.

“Congratulations, coaches, for the lives you change, the love you pour into your students and the positive impact you have on these fine students,” Szumila said.

Categories in the competition included informative speaking, original oratory, program oral interpretation; duo interpretation, dramatic interpretation, humorous interpretation, international extemporaneous speaking and U.S. Extemporaneous speaking.

Also, public forum debate, LD debate, CX debate. Congressional Debate-House; Congressional Debate-Senate; and Big Question Debate.