Rushikesh Kulkarni

Rushikesh Kulkarni

An Upper St. Clair High School sophomore earned the school’s highest finish ever at the NSDA National Speech and Debate Tournament, which concluded June 20.

Rushikesh Kulkarni placed eighth nationally in the International Extemporaneous Speaking event, automatically qualifying to compete in next year’s national tournament as a semifinalist.

Originally planned for Albuquerque, N.M., the National Speech & Debate national tournament was moved to an online format because of COVID-19. Tournament events were conducted June 14-20.

The Upper St. Clair High School speech and debate team is coached by teachers Ben Edwards, social studies; Dave Watson, English; and Kate Shuey, social studies. Also coaching are Ben Stalnaker and Reed Karsh.

“To cap off what was a truly bizarre year, our team did a remarkable job at a marathon virtual National Speech and Debate Association nationals this week. Several students advanced to ‘break rounds,’ sometimes in multiple events,” Edwards said, referencing the rounds after preliminaries.

Debate, congress and extemporaneous speaking rounds were performed live. Speech rounds were recorded the previous week and judges from around the country evaluated them as if they were live. In a speech event, an octofinalist ranks in the top 60 nationally, a quarterfinalist in the top 30 and a semifinalist in the top 14.

“Never in my years as a coach have I ever seen such an explosive lineup of early breaks and last day finalists at an NSDA tournament,” Watson said. “Thank you to the great student competitors of USC and a big heartfelt thank you to Mr. Ben Edwards, who bleeds speech and debate and who, along with a small cohort of fellow coaches and judges from across the country, kept our noble enterprise alive right to the end of the season.”

The public forum debate team of seniors Yash Jajoo and Devan Ekbote ended their high school careers with a break to the third day of competition, finishing in the top 100 in what is typically the most competitive event in speech and debate.

Junior Annika Chaves also advanced to the dramatic interpretation octofinals in her second career nationals break. Annika added a terrific run in poetry reading, her supplemental event, in quarterfinals.

Senior Basir Khan was the last debater standing from the team graduating in 2020. He went undefeated on the first day of supplemental Extemporaneous Debate and competed a grueling 16-plus hours of competition in two days to finish 6-2 in the largest event at NSDA Nationals to finish in the Top 30.

Junior Maddie Nolen took advantage of the time off from school to prepare three different supplemental events in addition to her main event, humorous interpretation.

“When she did not break in humorous interpretation, she learned that she broke in all three supplemental events she competed in, which could not have been equaled by too many other students nationwide,” Edwards said. “She made the most of those opportunities, advancing to octofinals in prose and storytelling, and semifinals in prepared prompt speaking, finishing ninth overall.”

Junior Antara Cleetus took a similar path to success, equaling Maddie’s semifinal appearance in prepared prompt speaking, finishing 14th.

“Both of them are the first semifinalists in a speech supplemental event in Upper St. Clair history,” Edwards said.

Also qualifying for nationals were seniors Matt Hornak and Vivek Babu, junior Samuel Levy, and sophomore Dev K. Patel.