LPS speech, debate teams express winning words at nationals

Speech and debate students from East High School smile at this summer's national tournament. The Spartans became a School of Outstanding Distinction after they finished fifth in the country in team standings. Southeast earned a School of Excellence in Speech honor for the team's performance, and Southwest had multiple students capture individual awards in their categories. More than 6,700 students took part in the tournament.

Lincoln Public Schools students expressed winning words on stage this summer at the biggest speech and debate tournament of the year.

East, Southeast and Southwest students competed in the National Speech and Debate Tournament (NSDT). Organized by the National Speech and Debate Association, the NSDT included more than 6,700 students from 1,513 schools. Qualifiers from all 50 states, two U.S. territories and seven countries traveled to the Des Moines metro area for action.

LPS high school students participated in main and supplemental events. The contests that students qualified to compete in at nationals were called main events. They could participate in supplemental events if they did not reach the top 30 places of their main events.


The Spartans enjoyed their best national finish in program history. East earned a School of Outstanding Distinction honor for reaching the top ten places of overall speech and debate team point totals. The Spartans placed fifth in the country.

“Qualifying to this tournament is a huge honor that only the top three percent of competitors achieve,” head speech coach Nick Herink said. “We were fortunate enough to have a record-breaking 29 students qualify! The most in state history.”

Senior Isabella Razdan and junior Nusrat Amin both qualified for the finals of their main events. Amin won the final round of the dramatic interpretation contest, and Razdan placed fourth in the United States extemporaneous speaking category.

Herink said he was ecstatic with their efforts. Amin finished first out of 254 students and Razdan competed against 269 people.

“This is a huge milestone as Nusrat and Isabella mark East’s first main events finalists since 2011!” Herink said.

Students in dramatic interpretation select a portion of a published work to perform for up to ten minutes. Judges evaluate their ability to convey emotion to an audience.
Amin presented a segment of a play entitled “The Shroudmaker” on stage. She was thrilled when she learned she had been selected as the winner.

“I was pretty surprised,” Amin said. “I couldn’t believe this happened to me. I couldn’t believe it was me. It was genuinely a dream come true.”

Students in the U.S. extemporaneous speaking category answer questions related to current events in the United States. They draw a new question each round at nationals. They spend the next 30 minutes preparing and memorizing a seven-minute speech about their topic.

Razdan drew “How can the United States reduce the polarization of its politics?” as her question for the finals. Students from Ohio, California, Missouri, Nevada and New York joined her in the top six spots.

“I was eternally grateful and beyond excited to be a finalist in U.S. Extemp,” Razdan said. “Having worked so hard throughout the season, it was a privilege to have ended my high school speech career on the national stage. Having the opportunity to perform and receive a national award was utterly surreal.”

East junior Abena Bonsu and senior Korben Ockander reached the finals of the supplemental event of poetry reading. Bonsu earned a national championship and Ockander captured fourth place in the 431-student contest.

Bonsu was elated when the results came in. She compiled a winning score after five of the seven judges gave her a number-one ranking.

“My immediate response was shock and gratitude,” Bonsu said. “It felt so unreal to end my second year of speech being a national champion when it’s something that people work years and years to achieve. It felt like all my hard work throughout the year had paid off, and honestly, words can’t begin to explain how overjoyed I was.”

Max Apel and Luke Nash reached the semifinals (top 14 competitors), Harper Schupbach, Claire Rooney and Jack Welstead advanced to the quarterfinals (top 30) and Nitya Haridas reached the octafinals (top 60) for speech.

Five debate students advanced to elimination rounds. Senior Elaine Suh and junior Sara Cai set a school record by placing 14th in the policy debate contest. Seniors Yakub Islamov and Ben Hoover and sophomore Alex Hamric scored multiple points in their categories.

Amin and Razdan said the national tournament gave the Spartans a final chance to share the stage with their close friends.

“Competing with my teammates created a bond no other activity or sport could create,” Amin said. “I found comfort in the people I competed with, and I created so many genuine friendships and connections with people not only from my team, but across the nation.”

“The love and support from my friends and my coaches was instrumental in my journey from computer screen to stage,” Razdan said. “My team is my second family, and I have made lifelong friends from the people I competed alongside during countless weekends in the school year. The tradition of friendship and loyalty that Spartan speech fosters is one that I hope every generation carries into the future.”

East Results


Dramatic Interpretation: Nusrat Amin – First Place (254 competitors)
United States Extemporaneous Speaking: Isabella Razdan – Fourth Place (270 competitors)
Poetry Reading: Abena Bonsu – First Place; Korben Ockander – Fourth Place; Ellie Hiser – Participant; Nitya Haridas – Participant (431 competitors)
Humorous Interpretation: Max Apel – Ninth Place (259 competitors)
Program Oral Interpretation: Luke Nash – 14th Place (273 competitors)
Informative Speaking: Harper Schupbach – Tied 15th Place; Nitya Haridas – Tied 49th Place (262 competitors)
Duo Interpretation: Claire Rooney and Jack Welstead – Tied 26th Place; Abena Bonsu and Korben Ockander – Participants (254 pairs)
Original Oratory: Ellie Hiser – Participant (277 competitors)


Policy Debate: Elaine Suh and Sara Cai – 14th Place; Elaine Yu and Emma Yin – Participants (181 pairs)
Congressional Debate – House: Yakub Islamov – tied 21st Place; Maddie Huggard – Participant; Alex Hamric – Participant (448 competitors)
Congressional Debate – Senate: Kashish Nangia – Participant (448 competitors)
Lincoln-Douglas Debate: Ben Hoover – 41st Place (557 competitors)
Extemporaneous Debate: Alex Hamric – Tied 67th Place; Brad Bobaru – Participant; Cheryl Zeng – Participant; Elaine Yu – Participant; Emma Yin – Participant; Jason Granquist – Participant; Jeff Shen – Participant; Kashish Nangia – Participant; Lucas Neamu – Participant; Maddie Huggard – Participant; Shriish Sathish – Participant; Sukruth Jangala – Participant (980 competitors)
Public Forum: Arnav Agarwal and Ronav Ganesh – Participants; Shriish Sathish and Sukruth Jangala – Participants (266 pairs)
World Schools Debate: Cheryl Zeng, Jason Granquist, Jeff Shen, Brad Bobaru, Lucas Neamu – Participants (198 teams)


Southeast students beamed after becoming a nationally recognized team. The Knights were one of only 22 programs in the country to earn a School of Excellence in Speech honor. Head coach Tommy Bender said he was proud of everyone for their accomplishments.

“The whole team did such a great job!” Bender said. “The work and positive attitude of the team all season is what created the circumstances that led to the Speech School of Excellence Award, which is one of the top 20 speech teams in the nation. There were around 1,500 schools at the national tournament alone.”

Senior Olivia Nelson led the Knights with a fourth-place award in the humorous interpretation contest. The event began with 259 competitors.

“She’s put so much time and effort into her performance, so seeing it all rewarded was amazing,” Bender said.

Nelson competed in front of more than 3,000 people in the finals. When the awards ceremony took place the following night, she was on one side of the stage and Bender was on the other. When her placement was announced, they met on stage and walked off together with big smiles.

“There were definitely lots of emotions, but mostly just so happy for her!” Bender said.

Nelson is a four-year national qualifier. Bender said she is the first student to graduate from Southeast with that distinction.

Julia Johnson, Lillias McKillip and DaZayah Hartshorn-Harvey all advanced in main events, and Aolani Wilson and Johnson moved to later rounds in supplemental events. Bender said it was a great way to wrap up the 2023-24 season.

“One of the things I’ve loved about this team has always been how much they work together as a team,” Bender said. “They truly care about each other and want each other to succeed.”

Southeast Results


Humorous Interpretation: Olivia Nelson – Fourth Place (259 competitors)
Dramatic Interpretation: Julia Johnson – Tied 43rd Place (254 competitors)
International Extemporaneous Speaking: Lillias McKillip – Tied 58th Place (300 competitors)
Original Oratory: DaZayah Hartshorn-Harvey – 55th Place (277 competitors)
Extemporaneous Commentary: Lillias McKillip – Participant (348 competitors)
Poetry Reading: Aolani Wilson – Double-octafinalist (431 competitors)
Prose: Julia Johnson – Quarterfinalist (368 competitors)
Poetry Reading: Kalainey Nickel – Participant (431 competitors)


Congressional Debate – House: Lexi Velgersdyk – Participant (448 competitors)
Congressional Debate – Senate: Henry Cline – Participant (448 competitors)
Lincoln-Douglas Debate: Hudson Witte – Tied 67th (557 competitors)


Multiple Southwest students traveled to Des Moines for national contests. Head speech coach Matt Heimes said he and head debate coach Toni Heimes were happy with the way the Silver Hawks performed.

“Toni and I are very proud of how the LSW students did,” Heimes said. “Having six students place in eight different events was wonderful. We are especially proud of our two semifinalists – Jack (Anderson) and Spencer (Krenk). Jack finished his high school career by qualifying for nationals three years in a row and placing highly in four different events from both the speech and debate areas. He was also a candidate for the national student of the year.

“Beyond the competitive scope, we were really pleased with the atmosphere created and camaraderie displayed by our students and coaches during a stressful and busy week.”

Anderson guided the Silver Hawks with a seventh-place award in the extemporaneous commentary contest. He joined students from Pennsylvania, Nevada, Illinois, California, Minnesota, Indiana, Colorado, Texas, Florida and Idaho in the top 14 spots.

Krenk tied for 21st place in the Congressional Debate: House category. He reached the semifinals in an event that had 448 competitors.

Heimes felt the future was bright for Southwest’s program. Many Silver Hawks who qualified for nationals were either freshmen or sophomores.

“Four of the six students who advanced to elimination rounds are underclassmen, and several others who attended were as well,” Heimes said. “I really cannot overstate how important being at a national competition is to students who will return for additional seasons. In this activity, you learn as much from being in the audience and watching top-notch performers as you do by competing yourself.

“It was particularly eye-opening for our freshman attendee, Maarib Basi, who has now set very high and achievable goals for herself after being a part of the national team at such a formative point in her career.”

Southwest Results


Dramatic Interpretation: Brooklyn Bruggeman – Tied 43rd Place (254 competitors)
Informative Speaking: Claire Timperley – Participant (262 competitors)
Duo Interpretation: Brooklyn Shoemaker and Mason Farmer – Tied 60th Place (254 competitors)
United States Extemporaneous Speaking: Jack Anderson – tied 44th Place (270 competitors)
Poetry Reading: Jordyn Davis – Participant; Mason Farmer – Quarterfinalist (431 competitors)
Prose: Brooklyn Bruggeman – Participant (368 competitors)
Extemporaneous Commentary: Jack Anderson – Seventh Place (348 competitors)
Expository: Jordyn Davis – Participant (441 competitors)
Impromptu Speaking: Claire Timperley – Participant (578 competitors)


Congressional Debate – House: Spencer Krenk – Tied 21st Place; Elizabeth Falcone – Participant; Grant Jungers – Participant (448 competitors)
Congressional Debate – Senate: Jack Watermolen – Participant (448 competitors)
Big Questions Debate: Maarib Basi – Participant (145 competitors)
Lincoln-Douglas Debate: Richard Nguyen – Tied 67th Place (557 competitors)
Public Forum: Kai Sasaki and Kyzz Azucena – Participants (266 pairs)
Extemporaneous Debate: Jack Watermolen – Participant; Richard Nguyen – Participant (980 competitors)

Want to learn more about more ways LPS students can get involved? Visit our athletics and activities page at https://home.lps.org/athletics/.

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Published: July 9, 2024, Updated: July 9, 2024