Walpole Speech and Debate Team Excels at State Tournament


Photo/ Emily Murray

Walpole High School’s Speech and Debate Team competed at the Massachusetts Speech and Debate League’s (MSDL) state tournament on April 10 and 11. Like every other tournament this year, the MSDL competition was completely virtual. 

Students had to qualify to compete in the tournament by performing well and earning above a certain score at two other tournaments during the season. At the state tournament, they are judged individually based on how they performed in their category and then graded as a team, based on how everyone competed overall. 

The team competed against every other speech and debate team in the state, a total of 39 different schools. Since 2015, Walpole’s team has placed in the top ten at states, and the pandemic did not change this. In fact, they placed eighth, which is the best performance in the team’s history. 

“We actually had our best year even though we were in a pandemic, which was really cool,” Coach Emily Murray said. “We have been improving every year, and even a pandemic didn’t stop us.”

Individually, Katerina Gebhardt placed third in the Children’s Literature category, Nidhi Byragoni placed fourth in Informative Speaking, Sahithi Gollakota placed fifth in the Novice Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Elizabeth Aspinwall placed eighth in Impromptu Speaking, Aden Levenson placed tenth in the Varsity Lincoln-Douglas Debate and Diza Girhotra placed tenth in the Novice Lincoln-Douglas Debate. 

“I am incredibly proud of my performance at states and in the year overall. I have never placed at the state tournament before, and to do it in my senior year is incredibly exciting,” Gebhardt said. 

Additionally, the “Big Mouth” multiple (inspired by the TV show), featuring Colin Wilber, Gina Destito, Liam Welch, Sophia Goodsell, Erin Ledwith, Arjav Akkole and Bridget Ryan placed third overall.

For most students, the state tournament marks the end of the speech and debate season. However, seven students from Walpole’s team qualified for the upcoming national tournaments, which is the most in the team’s history. There are two different national tournaments‒one is run by the National Catholic Forensic League (NCFL) and the other is organized by National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA). The NSDA tournament accepts three students per category and is more selective than the NCFL tournament, which accepts six. 

From Walpole, Aditi Belle, Stephen Bond, Katerina Gebhardt, Nolan Geer, Erin Ledwith and Bridget Ryan qualified for the NCFL tournament, which will happen over Memorial Day weekend. Nidhi Byragoni qualified for the NSDA tournament, which will occur in June. Both tournaments are virtual. 

“I wanted to qualify for this tournament for two years now, so for me it’s a cool achievement to do so,” Byragoni said. “Of course, I want to focus on giving my best performance yet, but it’s also a chance to watch others and end this year on a positive note.”

For seniors Aditi Belle, Nidhi Byragoni, Gina Destito, Katerina Gebhardt, Nolan Geer and Liam Welch, the state and national tournaments mark an end to not just the season, but their career on the Walpole Speech and Debate Team. 

“I am so proud of the team as a whole for supporting each other throughout the year and for doing so well in all of our events,” Gebhardt said. “I’m incredibly grateful for the support of my teammates, Mrs. Murray and Mr. McCluskey for their support and encouragement throughout the year that helped me get this far.”