Stepping up to speak out

By Mike Genet

As she perused the National Speech & Debate Association website this past spring, in preparation for the upcoming virtual national tournament, Blue Springs South junior Vari Patel came across something that intrigued her.

A national debate team that competes in international tournaments. 

Blue Springs South High School junior Vari Patel, shown with some of her speech and debate trophies earned last season, will be part of the USA Debate Team this school year. She is believed to be the first student from Missouri selected for the team.

Patel applied, went through a selection process and learned a couple weeks ago she had been selected to the developmental squad of the USA Debate Team. The first of monthly competitions is later this month, she said, and like what the national tournament ultimately became, the international tournaments are virtual.

Patel is part of the 15-member developmental squad of younger high school students (freshmen and sophomores at the time of application), akin to a junior varsity team. The 12-member debate team of older high school students is the main competition group.

Patel said she is believed to be the first student from Missouri to be selected for the national team.

“If COVID wasn’t happening right now, I would be traveling to tournaments, but all tournaments are online through the semester,” Patel said.

“It’s a very different approach, but it's a great experience to learn from everything,” she said, comparing international competitions to the group debate events in high school. “It’s still the basis of speaking and having a prepared case and evidence.”

Patel works with her national teammates on one-hour Zoom calls once a week, but the team coaches will also push the students, she said.

“It’s very self-driven, and you have to keep up on themes,” she said. “The prep work, just have to stay on top of your things, it’s a team-driven activity, but you all have your individual parts to play.”

For nationals, students were based at their schools, Patel said. For her competitions with the national team, “It will just be at home, in a quiet room where no one can bother them.”

Patel said she’s been in debate since seventh grade, following encouragement from a teacher in her introduction to acting class. She hopes to gather funding for a local debate camp geared toward middle school students, as that’s where interest can really start to build.

A member of South’s tennis team, the school’s chapter of Health Occupations Students of America, Patel also is active in mock trial and Eastern Jackson County Youth Court.

“It’s all in a circle,” she said of the similarities among debate, mock trial and Youth Court. “It prepares you a lot for speaking out.”

“Debate allows me to speak out and use my voice and express myself.”

At the national tournament in June, Patel was joined by South teammates Mason Minkler, Linda Alviar, Leanne Cheng, Broedy Gilburn, Allison Cooper, Brandon Duong and her sister Vani.

Also competing at nationals, whether in an individual, duo or team event:

• Blue Springs: Aubrey Avalos, Aidan Henry, Davin Lee, Wilson Miller, Quin Evans.

• Fort Osage: Aleesa Hill.

• Grain Valley: Lorena Hernandez, Hannah Lytle.

• Truman: Paige Gonzales, Shelby Reeves, Jude McGraw, Owen Williams, Taylor Layman, Adam LeBlanc, Ayden Smith, Garrett Burton, Ava Autrey, Gabbie Petentler, Burton-Smith, Hadley Brillhart.

• William Chrisman: Bank Daniel, Jakob Johnson.

• Lee’s Summit North, David Stevens, Destiny Culter, Madi Norris, Abby Fry, Bryce Ferguson.

Several students competed in two events, and Henry, Gonzales and Autrey each competed in three individual events.