Lee's Summit R-7 School District
Lee’s Summit North speech and debate competitors Katherine Ewing, Cydni Stanford, Sean Sturdivant and Devyn Holt.

LSR7 students are top 30 finalists at National Speech and Debate Tournament

They debated in a simulated Congress, and performed in ten-minute plays. They delivered speeches they wrote themselves, and engaged in debates after learning the topic 30 minutes ahead of time.

Lee’s Summit R-7 high schoolers had an impressive showing at the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Dallas, Texas late last month, with several competitors placing in the top 30. The event is the premier competition for speech and debate students, many of whom have already had stand-out performances at local and state events.

2019 Lee’s Summit North graduates Sean Sturdivant and Cydni Stanford placed in the top 30 for their ten-minute performance from Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”


Lee’s Summit North competitors Sean Sturdivant and Cydni Stanford performed "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

Lee’s Summit North competitors Sean Sturdivant and Cydni Stanford performed “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”


According to LSN coach Rachel Russell, this year’s competition was Cydni’s third trip to nationals. Though she was the NSDA Show Me District champion in Humorous Interpretation this year, she chose to compete with Sean in Duo Interpretation at nationals, where students can only compete in one event. There were more than 200 entries in Sean and Cydni’s category.

Their teammate, junior Devyn Holt, advanced to the semi-finals of the House of Representatives, in which students debate for or against bills in a simulated Congress.

Russell and LSN coach Ben Jewell brought the team to nationals this year.


Lee’s Summit North speech and debate competitors Katherine Ewing, Cydni Stanford, Sean Sturdivant and Devyn Holt.

Lee’s Summit North speech and debate competitors Katherine Ewing, Cydni Stanford, Sean Sturdivant and Devyn Holt.


Lee’s Summit West competitors, coached by Matt Good, also had strong performances.

Senior Neily Randall and 2019 graduate Victoria Bingaman placed 15th in the extemporaneous debate event, in which students are only given 30 minutes to prepare for a debate.

And their teammate Uzoaku Okafor, a 2019 LSW graduate, placed 31st in original oratory for “A Good Ole Moral Cleanse.” Oratory competitors memorize and deliver a ten-minute self-written speech about a topic of their choice.

Russell said that the robust competition found throughout Missouri’s local circuit has prepared Lee’s Summit students for the intensity of nationals, in addition to creating a “cool camaraderie among the coaches and students.”

“We are dedicated to the activity because we see it as a rigorous academic opportunity unlike any other students get to experience during their high school years,” Russell said. “We also genuinely enjoy the process of seeing students transform into highly polished, confident public communicators.”

Other Lee’s Summit students who competed at nationals included Katherine Ewing (LSN),  Ben de Jonge (LSW), Jacob Rush (LSW), Zach Evans (LSW), Joe Harris (LSW), and Jesse West (LSW).

Lee's Summit West's speech and debate team poses for a team picture during a dinner at nationals.

Lee’s Summit West’s speech and debate team poses for a team picture during a dinner at nationals.


Below, competitors Victoria Bingaman (LSW Class of 2019) and Devyn Holt (LSN Class of 2021) told us about their experiences in Texas:

This is a headshot of Victoria Bingaman, LSW graduate and debater.

VICTORIA: Nationals 2019 truly brought my high school debate career full circle. Four years of debate at Lee’s Summit West came to fruition in one week. I originally qualified for Congressional Debate in the House of Representatives without any actual tournament experience in Congress, but I also hoped to participate in a popular supplemental event: Extemporaneous Debate. In this event, competitors have 30 minutes to research and formulate a case for or against a topic.

Debating at nationals provided the final reassurance that the culture of LSW Debate is that of a family. My teammates were willing to sit with me for hours to help research new topics, even when they were no longer actively in the tournament. Watching my debate partner Uzoaku Okafor flawlessly perform her oratory for the last time while making jokes about the 14 hour days we endured will stick with me for a lifetime. Knowing it would be the last tournament of my career, most of my focus going in was directed towards team bonding and enjoying district sponsored meals. 

I didn’t plan on advancing at nationals because it was nationals, but I quickly realized Mr. Good had more than prepared not only myself but each member of the team to prosper at such a high-caliber tournament. I specifically remember when the Round 8 topic was released about Saudi Arabia and the ICC and thinking I was going to lose because I was tasked with defending the indefensible. But when the results were released, I was still undefeated.

Winning that round meant more to me than any of the others simply because it allowed me to realize how far a 14-year-old kid forced to take debate by her mom had come in speaking skills, getting her point across and researching subjects on the fly. All of these skills I believe are more crucial than anything I learned from a textbook because they were learned through successes and failures.  

To go out of the tournament 15th in the nation wasn’t something I was happy or sad about. I think anyone who knows me will agree that I will do just about anything to win. To not walk away with a trophy but a high ranking is something I simply settled with. Also knowing that 15th is where I ended my career, not where I will pick back up in the fall allowed me to focus more on how a week with my team and other debaters across the nation challenged the way I will think and live going forward. How I ended my career is just a number — the hardwork and memories that got me there have made an educated citizen and lifelong learner.

This is a headshot of Devyn Holt, LSN student and debater.

DEVYN: I attended the National Speech and Debate tournament in Dallas, Texas on June 17-21. I was lucky enough to qualify at the end of my sophomore year. I competed in an event called Student Congress, specifically in the House of Representatives. 

My event, as would be expected, was run as efficiently and professionally as any actual session of the United States Congress. (We were actually more efficient, thankfully). Simply stated, I got to take the role of a congressional representative for the week. Competing at nationals was an experience in itself. 

Since I joined debate at the beginning of my freshman year, it has been something I’ve dreamed of. However, it was an even greater experience than I could’ve imagined. Prior to leaving for the week, my coach, Mr. Jewell and I, spent hours each day reading through the legal legislation and preparing arguments to get me ready. Even some of my teammates who already graduated came back to help me prepare. 

Throughout nationals week, it became clear that I was more successful than I ever expected to be. I found out on Tuesday night that I made it to the quarter final session, meaning that at that point, I had roughly eight hours to prep eight new pieces of legislation, sleep, and get ready for another full day of session. But, thanks to Mr. Jewell, who stayed up with me until midnight, I was more than prepared when I stepped into the chamber on Wednesday.

Quarter Finals was extremely intimidating. I had never been an environment like that before. For the first time all week, I understood what it meant to have to play the political game. Most of the kids I competed against had been doing this event for years and knew each other, so it was hard to attempt to break into that club. We debated legislation regarding a tax on labor automation, a national implementation of ranked choice voting, mandatory paid maternity and paternity leave, and ended on a bill to cease the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.  

I was among some of the smartest and most articulate high school students in the nation, which ultimately made me a stronger speaker as well. I had no expectations of moving on past Wednesday. I was just thankful for the experience and opportunity to be there. So, when I saw my name on the semifinals list that night, I was ecstatic. Semifinals also had eight new topics to debate, meaning that I had to reprep all of my research that night. My teammate, Katherine Ewing, was knocked out of her event that day, so she spent 5 hours helping me research that night. On Thursday, semifinals was just as intense as one would expect. We spent six hours debating American-African aid relations, the Refugee Assistance Act of 2019, and whether or not we should pass a resolution to increase our southern border security. It was really cool to have the opportunity to hear perspectives and opinions from all different parts of the country, just like a real congressional representative. 

As I am the only non-senior from my school who attended nationals this year, my goal is to use my experience to motivate my teammates to be there with me next year. Debate has given me the opportunity and platform to use my voice to discuss important global issues with other students my age in a civil and respectful way. 

Too often are important political discussions discouraged away from my generation for fear of hurt feelings or improper opinion. However, debate is teaching me and my peers how to formulate our opinions into respectful and educated arguments that we can use to effectively communicate with each other. It’s because of people like Mr. Jewell and Mrs. Russell, who gave me the opportunity to attend nationals this summer, that I have faith that peaceful and effective communication is not a dying language.

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