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Jackson students place second at national speech and debate

Patricia Faulhaber
Suburbanite correspondent
Jackson High School Seniors Shreyaa Nagajothi (left) finished second in the Lincoln-Douglas Debate and Adam Hamdan finished second in United States Extemporaneous Speaking. Hamdan also was a 2020 state champion.

JACKSON TWP. The Jackson High School speech and debate team had two students place second in the annual National Speech and Debate competition, which was held virtually between June 15-20 with more than 6,000 high school and middle school students from around the country participating.

It was originally scheduled in Albuquerque, N.M., prior to the pandemic.

Two Jackson seniors finished second in the nation, including the school’s highest placement in speech. They represent the only Stark County students to place at the national competition. Senior Shreyaa Nagajothi finished second in the Lincoln-Douglas Debate and senior Adam Hamdan finished second in United States Extemporaneous Speaking. Hamdan also was a 2020 state champion.

Nagajothi is a four-time state qualifier and a two-time national qualifier. Hamdan, a four-time state qualifier and a three-time national qualifier, plans to attend Georgetown University and study economics and political science.

“The results this year at nationals were incredible, but the growth and togetherness of this team are what impressed me the most, we had five seniors and five juniors compete in nationals this year,” said Jackson High School speech and debate coach Ben McGugin. “These students have worked most of their school life to get to this point. To achieve qualification and make it to the tournament is such a high achievement itself.”

Other seniors who participated in the national tournament were:

• Clare Abboud: Lincoln Douglas Debate; and a 2020 state champion

• Ben Gregory: Informative Speaking

• Zach Buckler: Original Oratory

Juniors who participated in the national tournaments were:

• Pranav Nagajothi: International Extemporaneous Speaking, top 30 in the nation and a fourth place at the state tournament

• Krish Parikh: World Schools Debate

• Nolan Scanlon: World Schools Debate

• Matthew Visco: World Schools Debate

• Louise Engohang: Original Oratory

McGugin said that Jackson has always had speech and debate students go to nationals. Last year, members of the team placed sixth.

“We had students place second this year which is the best Jackson has achieved. The team has never had a national champion, but we got really close this year. Plus, we had students place in both speech and debate which is unusual,” McGugin said.

He added that one reason in addition to the hard work of the students that they may have placed higher this year is that many of this year’s students had brothers and/or sisters who competed in the past.

“Students from past years have helped build a foundation for future teams to work from. Plus, the volunteer coaches and I have been on the Jackson High School speech and debate teams in the past,” McGugin said. “Giving back to the district is one reason I became a teacher and work with the team.”

He said the top three skills students take away from speech and debate are confidence, a sense of community, and it awakens their own personal voice. McGugin said the students learn to speak with knowledge behind what they are debating or their speech topic.

“Students do the hard work in research and critical thinking then build their voice based on their passion about the topic. They become individuals while engaging community and their voice is what shows the passion,” he said.

This year’s team started with close to 80 students and ended the year with 60. McGugin said speech and debate is a club with members competing with other high school speech and debate clubs.

Students practice four days a week all year long and attend day long tournaments every Saturday with some overnight stays. This year, the nationals was held virtually with students either competing from their homes or McGugin said students joined together at the high school on the days of competition so they could compete from the high school.

“I want to thank the administration for their continued support and commitment to help us be successful. They see the value of speech and debate and they contribute to the students’ success. The students strive every day to be better and we appreciate the district offering its support for the student members,” McGugin said.