Speech and Debate team bounces back from lull

Pictured from left to right: Mike Gatazka, Wesley Turner, Julia Gauthier, Justin Sargunas, Zurez Memon, Michael Lilholt, Jesse Ferraioli.
KASSIE PARISI/GAZETTE REPORTERPictured from left to right: Mike Gatazka, Wesley Turner, Julia Gauthier, Justin Sargunas, Zurez Memon, Michael Lilholt, Jesse Ferraioli. KASSIE PARISI/GAZETTE REPORTER

By Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — A lack of funding for the last three years has not stopped the Shenendehowa Speech and Debate team from making a recent comeback in a big, and eloquent, way.

Though the team now boasts over 20 members and is gearing up to send three members to compete in nationals, its future was uncertain fairly recently.

Four years ago, the speech and debate club had two advisors. Soon after, one advisor went on maternity leave while the other advisor prepared to retire, leaving the club almost nonexistent and without an advisor who could represent them in front of the school board, leading to a loss of funding. Though the team had a temporary advisor, it was forced to jump from room to room to practice in, with very little stability.

“For two years really, we kind of operated in limbo,” said club president Wesley Turner, a senior. But as of this year, the club gained two new advisors who are new to the high school.

“We’re starting to be able to get the official function back. We exist to the school. We have a meeting room, and so it’s been really nice that we have these two new advisors who are really driven, and are really awesome, and willing to help us along by everything,” Turner said.

The team has become more than just an extracurricular activity to many members. With a clear confidence and eloquence that seems beyond the years of members,  especially the younger students, they work and speak as a well oiled machine, deftly balancing a thin line between talking over each other and handing off the baton for someone else to say his or her piece.

They trust each other’s abilities and knowledge, though a few of them credit Turner as the force that drove them to get involved. Zurez Memon, a senior who has been on the team for four years, and who originally told Turner to join the team, said that he was driven to take part due to his naturally argumentative nature, but then began to learn more and more that applied to his life outside speech and debate.

“Everything just started here, and it branched out everywhere else,” Memon said.

Mike Gatazka, a senior who joined two years ago, said participating in speech and debate helped his personal growth.

“I was afraid of public speaking at the time. Not so much anymore,” he said.

The team members participate in different types of public speaking. Some of them take part in Lincoln-Douglas debates, which are one on one and tend to be focused on topics that address deeper moral implications and questions, while others prefer the public forum route, which focus more on policy issues and current events, and the participants work in teams of two.

One positive aspect to the club, according to the team, is that it doesn’t restrict its members and instead allows them to try out different types of speech and debate.

“You have the opportunity to try different things,” senior Julia Gauthier said. Her public forum partner, senior and club treasurer Justin Sargunas, reiterated that point.

“Even going from one type of debate to the other, you see how everything changes,” he said.

With the club status back on track, and the funding coming back in, the team is looking to branch out even further. They has won three tournaments this year and they also brought in 10 new freshman, as opposed to last year’s two.

Sophomores Michael Lilholt and Jesse Ferraioli, who are gunning to become the team’s next president and vice president, are hoping to start a middle school speech and debate program.

“The whole motive behind this is to catch them young,” Ferraioli said. “Because, by the time you’re in highschool, I feel, people have already started a sport, or some other thing that’ll take up a lot of their time.”

“To me, speech and debate is a lot of fun,” Lilholt said. “It’s very educational and it’s really worth anybody’s time because, the things that you learn, and the people that you meet are really tremendous.”