Speech and debate club members say it’s a place to belong

Schools: Gig Harbor High group gives students a place to learn about public speaking

of the GatewayFebruary 26, 2014 

Chris Coovert’s debate team met Monday afternoon in his Gig Harbor High School classroom.


Aside from being a well-performing organization, Chris Coovert’s speech and debate club at Gig Harbor High School is a place for students to bond, learn, share and communicate. Coovert has led the club for 14 years.

The club has had success of late. At the Feb. 9 Stanford Invitational, students Mariah Squires and Natasha Dietzler placed first in duo interpretation. The invitational brings together clubs from the West Coast.

Coovert and his students have organized a community performance March 4 at Forza. The students will perform short pieces and speeches. Full debates take too long, Coovert said.

For club members, it’s a time to show off what they’ve been working on.

Co-presidents Emily Sawan and Natasha Paranjapye are both seniors. They oversee the various types of captains in the club.

Paranjapye will do an eight-minute original interpretive speech at Forza. Her topic: Apples.

“They’re really genetically kind of weird,” Paranjapye said of the fruit. “It’s just a fun speech.”

Madeline Otto, a senior, is a captain of the Lincoln-Douglas, or “LD,” debate teams.

LD, named after the famous match between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, is a type of one-on-one debate. Otto got into one-on-one because, when she joined the club during her sophomore year, she didn’t know anyone and wanted to work alone. She found she had a knack for it.

As she progressed, she found a group of friends.

“This club has meant a lot to me, especially because I came from a small school in grade school,” Otto said.

Otto came to Gig Harbor High from St. Nicholas Catholic school. She said the speech and debate club helped her meet people.

After her high school career ends in just a few months, Otto wants to attend Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., to study to become an anesthesiologist. It’s not exactly a profession that includes debating, but she said the club has given her confidence and improved her speaking skills.

The LD style introduced Otto to students from around the state. Because the format is one-on-one, she’s usually interacting the most with students from other schools.

“You’re kind of forced to branch out,” Otto said.

At the Stanford Invitational, Otto said there was camaraderie between students from schools in Washington state.

Otto will give an expository speech at the Forza showcase. Her topic this year is cupcakes. She’s previously talked about skiing and red-heads — a topic with which the redhead is familiar.

Sawan will participate in what’s called duo interpretation. She and her partner, Jacob Powell, will perform a scene from Bill Waters’ seminal comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.”

Paranjapye also will perfromr a 10-minute oratory. It’s a persuasive speech, as opposed to her piece on apples. Her topic will be the culture of fear. Paranjapye will talk about how to change attitudes and overcome fear.

Paranjapye heard about the speech and debate club when she was a freshman. She was shy and struggled with public speaking.

Those days are gone. She’s learned to persuade, explain and elocute. Best of all, she’s made friends.

The club is the first environment in which Paranjapye felt like she belonged.

“It’s probably the best decision I made in high school,” she said.

If you go

The Gig Harbor speech and debate club will hold a community performance from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. March 4 at Forza, 5275 Olympic Drive NW, Gig Harbor.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen.miller@gateline.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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