Corona Del Mar High School’s quad area has always teemed with life on Tuesday evenings. Around 100 members of the high school’s speech and debate team will fill up classrooms across the campus and engage in rigorous debate on the most pressing issues in American politics and popular culture.
During the 2020-2021 school year, however, the quad is left with nothing but eerie silence. Forced to interact on Zoom, the team, especially its leadership, needed to change into a structure where they can quickly adapt to the unusual circumstances. After undergoing a painstaking transition, the team, held together only by its camaraderie, managed to fit the bustle of Tuesday nights tightly into a computer screen.
As the pandemic swept across the country, the reality of remote learning forced many extracurricular actives to pause or even disappear. One exception to this trend is speech and debate teams continuing and flourishing under the new conditions. According to the organizers of the National Speech and Debate Tournament, membership and attendance are staying constantly strong. Corona Del Mar High School’s Speech and Debate team’s perseverance demonstrates this trend of strength. The team is still going, even as other extracurriculars continue to falter.
The Corona Del Mar debate team has always been prominent throughout the Southern California region. Its enduring team spirit and impressive size have always commanded an imposing presence at events before the pandemic. The team’s number remain large today, and its presence only grew in the region as it organized conferences for other school teams to participate. However, COVID-19 still caused a noticeable decrease in its membership. In the past school year, the team saw a member count of 75 students, down from the 125 average from the past five years.
Laura Mayberry, the faculty advisor of the team for over a decade, contributed the drop-off in membership to the lack of opportunities to promote the team. “The team was able to stay about its size it just didn’t get much bigger partly because we will normally advertise on campus, which we could not do this year,” she said.
Mayberry was still very impressed by the team’s performance, praising the team for its resiliency and achievements at conferences. “We had regular meetings every week and special meetings for special projects,” she said. “We competed in several events over the year and won distinctions at those events. I was pleased by that, for sure.”
This view is shared by Atra Khosravi, the outgoing student elected president of the team “I think we did a lot more than most people expected,” she said. During this strange and difficult school year, Khosravi’s duties sharply increased compared to those of previous presidents. She had to perform tasks that were expected to be done by others, especially the tasks of event organizers from the regional organization. During one event, the regional organization failed to produce ballots for best speakers on time. This oversight caused great disruption to the event that Khosravi organized.
She is proud of the achievements the team was able to manage under her leadership and confident in the legacy that she has left. “I am probably one of the better captains that to have come through speech and debate,” she said. “I was able to retain membership and turn out, made sure everyone was engaged and went to more events than last year.”
Despite Khosravi and the team’s success, the limitation of online conference is still very much team’s mind. The irritation associated with Zoom and the constant threat of Zoom bombers has put the members on edge. This sentiment is best expressed by Ayden Niknafs, the president-elect of Speech and Debate and Khosravi’s successor. Niknafs believes that the zoom environment robs members of the excitement of debate. “There is a different feeling when you debate in person. The lights, the audience, the stage are all factors that contribute to nervousness that the speaker must overcome,” he said. “You can remove all of those factors on zoom.”
Niknafs eagerly awaits a future in which speech and debate can return to what he believes to be the proper form. He persistently checks on the latest pandemic guidelines and school district updates. As Newport Mesa Unified School District announces its intention to return in the fall, Niknafs has already begun to plan events for the next school year.
There is still a lot of uncertainty on how exactly the team will return in-person, and Niknafs is keeping that very much in mind as he outlines the vision for his presidency “I’m not exactly sure how we are coming back, but I can assure you that I and the rest of the leadership will do everything in its power to offer the best experience possible,” he said.