Needham High’s Speech and Debate team students celebrate a successful tournament hosted by the high school. Photo Courtesy of Paul Wexler
By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Xenophobia. Term limits in Washington. “My Year of Saying Yes to Everything.”
These were some of the topics Needham High School students broached in the past year on Needham High’s Speech and Debate team.
Throughout the 2017-2018 school year, the Speech and Debate team fiercely contended in about 20 interscholastic competitions, including the State Tournament in April and the Grand National Tournament in May. Over two hundred Needham High Students are on the team and 61 of them competed in tournaments.
Needham High School also hosted a tournament earlier in March, which brought over eight hundred people to the high school, including students from Illinois.
At this year’s Grand National Tournament over Memorial Day weekend, Needham High finished among the top five schools in the country in speech events. Jackson Segal from the class of 2018 became a national champion in extemporaneous speaking, while rising senior Shayan Raza earned the spot of runner-up in original oratory and rising junior Annie Stein was in the top 25 in declamation. Rising sophomore Sasha Rieser won the state championship in novice Lincoln-Douglas Debate.
In Massachusetts, Needham High School finished third in speech and fourth in debate.
The Speech and Debate team also offers students opportunities to meet students from other schools while at tournaments. It isn’t uncommon, either, for Needham High students to support other students from Massachusetts while at the tournaments and be supported by others in the state.
Students can work on their own skills, too, while on the team.
“Students develop speaking and critical thinking and self-confidence, no question,” said Paul Wexler, one of Needham’s Speech and Debate team’s coaches.
“It is probably, the classroom aside, the best reading, writing, and research program one can do. And because both sparkly trophies and being part of a team are involved, people are incentivized in all sorts of ways not always possible in the classroom.”
However, Wexler believes that the most valuable trait students develop while on the team is the ability to listen. This allows the students to give constructive feedback to one another, better their own speeches and debates, and give counter arguments during debates.
“If one wants to gain a truly unique skill in today's world to stand out from the crowd, learn to listen,” Wexler said. “Speech and debate is the best way to do it.”
For next year, Wexler hopes to find more ways to get the students involved in the community, whether it be having students speak at community events or in front of town organizations.