Spartans, Silver Hawks shine in national speech, debate rankings

Lincoln East and Southwest high school students have aced their speech and debate tests in Nebraska for many years.
The Spartans and Silver Hawks learned Oct. 24 that they have collected A-plus scores on a national scale as well.
The National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) released its “Top 100 Schools” list for the 2022-23 year. The NSDA recognized the 100 chapters with the largest number of new student degrees over a three-year span. Students at more than 3,500 schools received degrees for competition, service and leadership achievements.

NSDA leaders present Honor Society degrees each time students reach milestones of merit points. They earn merit degrees for accumulating 25 points, honor degrees for 75 points and excellence degrees for 150 points. Additional degrees include distinction (250 points), special distinction (500), superior distinction (750), outstanding distinction (1,000) and premier distinction (1,500).
East students earned 195 new degrees last year and finished 28th nationally with 501 degrees in three years. Southwest was 61st with 112 degrees last year and 394 degrees in three years.
East students Isabella, Elaine and Leo said they were proud of the school’s award-winning success. All three seniors have earned national recognition for their individual talents.
“It’s super exciting,” Leo said. “We feel like we’re putting Nebraska on the map. There are schools all over the country who are doing great things, and we’re right there with them. We feel confident that we can do big things too.”
John Holen directs East’s debate program and Nick Herink is head speech coach. Both said they were happy for East to be listed among the nation’s top 30 forensics schools. The Spartans finished in the Pentagon Club (500-plus degrees) for the first time in the past decade.
“This reflects a lot of hard work and dedication on the part of the students, alumni and staff at the school,” Holen said. “We are lucky to have some of the best current and former students in the state as well as a school building that is completely behind our speech and debate programs.”
“This award is reflective of the size of the teams and their consistent dedication to speech and debate throughout the competitive season,” Herink said. “This ranking reflects the last three years of recruitment, retention and commitment from kids. It’s so exciting to see the work of all students from both teams be recognized in this way.”
Matt Heimes is head speech coach at Southwest and Toni Heimes is head debate coach. Matt Heimes said it was an honor for the Silver Hawks to be recognized nationally.
“We were thrilled,” Heimes said. “We’ve been on that list before, but Covid really hurt our numbers, and like so many other teams, we’ve been working hard to rebuild after losing so many kids who didn’t want to do speech and debate via Zoom.”

Isabella, Elaine and Leo said camaraderie is a major factor in East’s success. Upperclassmen are willing to share their knowledge with younger speech and debate students, and practices are full of both humor and hard work. More than 120 students are involved in the two activities.
“There’s a lot of networking that happens,” Elaine said. “You prep for events together and you spend a lot of time working to make things the best they can be. It shows how supportive of a community we have.”
“There’s a lot of pressure, but ultimately it’s about the process,” Isabella said. “The beauty of speech is that you get to work together to make something turn out well. We have fun working together, but we also make sure we’re all working toward a common goal so that when we switch into contest mode, we’re ready to go.
“The tradition of excellence we have here is really a tradition in leadership and a tradition in mentorship. Our success is built on everything that’s been passed down to others over the years.”
The NSDA honor was the latest award for East. The Spartans set a Nebraska record with 28 national speech and debate qualifiers this past year. East placed eighth in team standings at the NSDA Tournament out of more than 1,200 schools, and the Spartans earned a School of Outstanding Distinction Award for the first time. East also won the Class A state speech team title and secured championships in five state events.
“This was really the cherry on top of an outstanding season of hard work by the students at East,” Holen said.

Isabella said the senior Spartans are eager to help maintain that commitment to excellence this year.
“Before we’ve always looked to others to be the rock of the program, but now as seniors we are the rock,” Isabella said. “We started out as freshmen and worked our way up, and now our job is to give everyone else confidence so that we can continue to be successful as a program. To me it’s really exciting.”
Herink felt that enthusiasm was the primary reason for Lincoln students being in the front row of the national speech and debate classroom.
“The speech and debate teams have a long tradition at East, and these kids see the responsibility of that legacy and meet it head on,” Herink said. “We are so fortunate to have these dedicated kids!”
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Published: November 1, 2023, Updated: November 1, 2023

Lincoln East speech and debate students smile after the national tournament this summer. The Spartans learned Oct. 24 that they finished 28th on the National Speech and Debate Association's