HARLINGEN — Back-to-back rounds.
Christina Banda said that was the most difficult part about competing Friday and Saturday in Harlingen school district’s National Speech and Debate Association’s National Qualifier.
“I’m enjoying getting to meet people from the different schools who have the same ideas and share the same mindset as you,” said Christina, 13, an eighth grader at the Harlingen School for Health Professions.
Christina was the only student from her school competing in the event at Vela Middle School. However, she was one of more than 100 students competing in numerous events, including prose, poetry and extemporaneous speaking.
They were each vying for a chance to participate in the National Speech Drama and Debate Middle Finals in Florida.
Organizers were delighted by the students’ interest and success.
“It’s all Harlingen kids,” said Leah Ann Ince, instructional coach for Speech, Drama and Debate for the Harlingen school district.
“It’s the first time we have had a national qualifier for middle school kids,” she said.
Middle schoolers nationwide have participated in the craft of public speaking for several years, but their involvement at this level is new for Harlingen. Local middle schoolers have participated in some speech, drama and debate activities for awhile, but on a much smaller scale.
“It’s just been a local district tournament,” Ince said. “That’s pretty much all the middle schools could do.”
Now they’re being brought into the big leagues, competing in events coordinated by the National Speech and Drama Association.
Ince knew when the district offered this opportunity to its middle schoolers, there would be some response. She had no idea how much.
“We were expecting maybe 10 kids on every campus,” she said. “Now we have over 100 students. It really took off. I am just so proud.”
She said each student taking first and second place in each of the events would qualify for the national tournament in Florida. However, she’d already seen wins in more ways than one.
“It’s teaching them how to use their voices, and that can make a difference the rest of their lives,” she said. “I have seen them grow. I have seen the confidence of these kids increase from their first time.”
Several middle schoolers have already beaten high schoolers in competition. She believed more lay ahead for some students than just qualifying to compete in Florida.
“I believe we could have some national champions,” she said. “I think some kids have a great show based on what I’ve seen.”
“Every time I compete I learn something new from the other speakers. I think I’m getting better and really progressing.”
Myranda Pavon, 13, Gutierrez Middle School
“I never know what to expect once I go through the door in these competitions. I see how everybody’s getting better. I have worked really hard.”
Benjamin Trevino, 13, Memorial Middle School
“Having to do so many rounds is hard. I’ve done seven rounds back to back. What I enjoy most is having the chance to go to Florida to compete in a national event.”
Marcos Gonzales, 14, Vela Middle School
“I want to be the first seventh grade boy to go to nationals for my school. I have enjoyed seeing everybody improve and how they have changed. The most challenging part is competing against my friends.”
Alek Araguz, 13, seventh grader, Coakley Middle School