By Will McClure
Over the many years of Stamford High School’s existence, there has been a certain pedigree of academic success from the students, both in the classroom as well as competing in contests sponsored by the University Interscholastic League. Traditionally at these UIL events, Stamford students compete against other schools in the same Class AA classification in events ranging from Literary Criticism to Speech events. However, over the last year, a group of students, coached by Mr. Craig Gilbert, have embarked on a new venture in speech competitions by competing in events sponsored by the Texas Forensic Association, or TFA. Under the umbrella of the National Speech and Debate Association, the TFA offers students the chance to compete against all other schools ranging all of the way from 6A to 1A and private/charter schools in events such as Dramatic Interpretation and Original Oratory. As such, the TFA sponsors numerous tournaments throughout the state to allow students the opportunity to earn points to, hopefully, make it all of the way to State competition and qualify for Nationals. With the need to hold so many tournaments, schools offer to host these tournaments that are held for the entire school year until the State competition. As such, Stamford High School, now entering its 2nd year competing within the TFA, will host one of these tournaments on September 24 where schools can come and compete in speech events as well as allow Stamford High School a fundraising opportunity. With the tournament day drawing closer, Mr. Gilbert was able to discuss the tournament itself, including the Stamford team’s role as well as how the Stamford community can help with the tournament itself.
In what is known as an “Individual Qualifying Events,” the Stamford TFA tournament will function as one of many tournaments that schools will participate in from now until February where they can qualify for a Finals tournament in which if they can earn 12 points, they will then qualify for the State Tournament. Putting on more events than the UIL throughout the year and with a wide range of individual events, the Stamford tournament currently offers 15 events for schools to compete in, with many more that could be offered that the TFA recognizes. To compete in a tournament such as the one in Stamford, participating schools must pay an entry fee, which in turn helps act as a fundraiser for the Stamford speech team. To help cut expenses in putting on the tournament and reduce the number of fundraisers the team has to complete in the community, individuals can volunteer to judge the event, which as of this writing stands as 45 volunteers to judge, with Gilbert saying that they can always use more. Gilbert said that the more volunteers that they can get to judge, the more that the speech team can put back from the entry fees as funds raised. While this is a great opportunity to help the team raise funds and have a TFA event at their school, there is, however, a catch in doing so.
"When you host a speech meet," Gilbert said, "your kids don't participate in the meet. They just help work it. You can have them compete, but they cannot get points off of it like, for example, you need so many [in a particular event] for the kids to get points, like if you need at least 12 to be eligible for points so if there was only 11, I could put one of our kids in, but they couldn't get points."
Although the Stamford speech students would be ineligible to receive points, they can still potentially compete in the events offered to, not only help their potential competitors gain the valuable points, but also give the team the opportunity to practice in real competition. The students, especially the new members, can also go in and watch the rounds, time keep and learn about the event as well, with the event being one of the first of the season and essentially "kicking off" the season for many schools including Stamford.
Gilbert noted that, at this time, San Angelo Central High School and Rising Star High School have signed up to compete at this tournament and is hoping to see entries from Abilene High School, Cooper High School and Big Spring High School. Gilbert said that he hopes this tournament can become something that the school can host every year. This tournament will also help students in other organizations with fundraising as the AVID students will help run concessions as well as complete time-keeping duties while the FCCLA will run the hospitality room.
As the year goes on and the students compete in other tournaments, the Stamford students will take the preparation from running their own tournament, as well as seeing potential opponents in action, as they continue to compete all year, participating in more rounds to earn more points and degrees in the hopes that they can qualify for State and the National Speech and Debate competition. The more degrees the students receive, the more is added to the school "strength," which dictates the number of students from that school that can participate in the two-day National Speech and Debate Tournament in February, with the top students getting the opportunity to go to Nationals. In their first year competing, Gilbert noted that then-Senior Caleb Horn was able to place 11th out of 56, coming one round shy of competing in the finals that determine who will go to Nationals. Despite a good showing, Gilbert said that it is a hard competition to make it that far, but is not out of the realm of possibility.
So, on September 24th, Stamford High School will serve as tournament grounds for schools to kick off their speech season and start earning points to try and get to Nationals. Even though the Stamford students will not be able to earn points this time, Gilbert said that the event is not so much about the competition, but instead getting more involved in public speaking and the benefits that it would have for them later in life.
For more information about the TFA, visit txfa.weebly.com and if you would like to volunteer to help judge the tournament, contact Craig Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the school at 325-773-2701.