Currently in my senior year of high school, I wanted to experience something new and challenging before I graduated. To supplement my Honors Government and Politics course, I applied for an internship position in my congressman’s district office. The person who interviewed me—the man who would become my immediate boss if I was accepted—seemed skeptical that a high schooler, let along a homeschooled student, could fill a position normally reserved for college graduates. As he listed all of the required skills, such as compiling documents, taking phone calls in a professional manner, and possessing computer skills, I kept referencing my years of speech and debate experience to explain why I would excel under those requirements.
Although it may seem like an exaggeration, speech and debate has literally impacted every area of my life—from daily communication skills and thought processes, to taking notes and studying for classes. Speech and debate clubs have played a critical role in my skill development; without the weekly teaching, drills, and tournament support, I don’t think I would have learned as well. The only drawback of a traditional club for my family was the travel distance. With younger siblings, who needed to eat dinner and head to bed right during the time my mom would normally take a sibling and I to club, the evening often became late and exhausting for everyone. Many nights, my dad could not leave work in time to watch the rest of my siblings. When he did, it had to be super early, since the drive to club was around an hour. Since there was no better alternative, however, my family continued to do our best to juggle the hectic Monday night schedule. As my siblings and I matured, it became less difficult, but I met many people who were in a similar predicament as my family had been. Some were too far from a club to even consider the drive; others simply didn’t want to try speech and debate, because they were afraid of the traveling hassle; still others were hamstrung by the weekly gas prices.
Since I understood the frustration of those who reasonably could not attend a club for various reasons, I decided to start an online club—Speech and Debate USA—to further speech and debate in the homeschool community. Since almost everyone has access to the internet, the club can travel to places where no one would have thought possible. The family on the island of Maui, Hawaii, can now attend a club without having to travel to another island each week. The busy mom in Indianapolis can now let her interested daughter participate in speech and debate, since she won’t have to tote several children to club and back—each week—across a city that ranks #56 on the list of America’s 75 Worst Commutes.*
Not only is a speech and debate club now accessible to more homeschoolers, but also the Speech and Debate USA experience rivals that of any in-person club. We meet weekly, learn speech and debate, discuss cases, share evidence, and generally operate in every way a standard club does. Of course the main difference is the online setting, which is enhanced by our professional operating platform; with live video, audio, and chat, our meetings have a personal dimension. Our national nature also gives us a vast pool of resources from which to enhance the club experience.
Since Speech and Debate USA does not have any geographical boundaries, club coaches are speech and debate alumni from across the country. Now accomplished and respected alumni, who are thrilled to volunteer their time to help the next speaking and debating generation, can participate even though they have moved on to college or work away from their home club. Speech and Debate USA has a diverse group of accomplished coaches, from a PhD student who has coached for thirteen years and is currently teaching fifty plus students at a university, to a high school senior, who won first place at Nationals this past summer. Currently from nine different states, Speech and Debate USA coaches are eagerly helping out from places as far away as Poland and Ukraine.
Besides the novel ability to draw a wide array of excellent coaches, Speech and Debate USA also provides a unique opportunity for student leadership. The club, which is incorporated as a nonprofit, is student-led. Motivated and mature students can apply for leadership positions at the regional or state level. This structure fosters local relationships, which is important to cohesiveness at local tournaments, in debate partnerships, and for additional practice. It also provides students with an unparalleled opportunity to experience leadership in a large, but close-knit organization.
I started Speech and Debate USA to pass on my love of speaking and humble knowledge of speech and debate, and to take my leadership skills to the next level. Through speech and debate, I have experienced what countless other high school speakers and debaters have: a transformation of my life. Although my boss at my congressional office internship was skeptical when I started work, he soon began to reference my homeschooled background as a reason for my competent job. I smile to myself: I never was as outgoing and skilled, but I developed through speech and debate. The activity has positively impacted me forever, and I want as many other homeschooled students as possible to have the same opportunity as I do. Speech and Debate USA offers just that.
Olyvia Chinchilla is the President & Acting Director of Speech and Debate USA. She is currently a senior in high school and is participating in her fifth year of speech and debate. She has qualified to NCFCA Regionals and won numerous awards in Apologetics, Impromptu, Persuasive, and Extemporaneous. She also competed at the national level in Persuasive in 2012. In 2013, Olyvia and her partner placed fifteenth in Team Policy debate at the NCFCA Region VI Regional Invitational, and Olyvia won third place Team Policy Speaker. More information about Speech and Debate USA can be found online: http://www.speechanddebateusa.com/
*Clark Merrefield, January 18, 2010, “America‘s 75 Worst Commutes,” The Daily Beast, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2010/01/19/americas-75-worst-commutes.html