Working Through the Break: Speech and Debate Team Performs Well at Harvard and NSDA Qualifying Tournaments

By Jack Viscuso ’21

After three straight weeks of school, most Flyers had one thing on their minds: winter break. Nevertheless, for members of the Robert C. Wright Speech and Debate Club, the free time consisted of two weekends of intense debate competition.

On the morning of Friday, February 15, the team traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts for the 44th Annual Harvard National Forensics Tournament. After a night of relaxation and preparation, debaters and speakers woke up early on Saturday morning for the first full day of competition. One of the unusual aspects of this tournament is that the events take place at various venues throughout the beautiful suburb of Cambridge.

The highlight of Harvard was undoubtedly the astonishing performance by Michael Bellia ’21 in Lincoln-Douglas debate. Competing against 235 debaters from across the country, Bellia posted a 5-1 record in the preliminary rounds, earning him a spot in the break rounds. On Sunday night, Bellia defeated his first opponent in a 2-1 decision by the three-judge panel. Bellia was, therefore, set to compete in Harvard Yard on Monday. Round after round, Bellia eliminated four opponents in closely contested debates. During these rounds, the majority of Chaminade’s debaters watched and supported their teammate. In a historic moment for the team, Bellia clinched his spot in the finals round, an impressive accomplishment at one of the country’s most competitive tournaments. Unfortunately, Bellia was edged out on a close 2-1 decision, which ended an impressive performance by the sophomore.

Following his finals round, Michael Bellia ’21 celebrates his strong performance with coach and moderator Bro. John McGrory, S.M. ‘84.

Reflecting on the tournament as a whole, Bellia remarked, “Although I came up short of winning 1st place, Monday was a great day because I was surrounded by almost the entire team as we made our way to the final round. Harvard was a wonderful experience and a great accomplishment.”

Beyond Bellia’s success, many other members of the team performed well at the tournament. Nathaniel Bernich ’21 advanced to the double-octofinals round early Monday morning while Jack Viscuso ’19 and Grant Allen ’20 placed in the triple-octofinals. Jack Viscuso was also awarded a plate for being the 2nd best speaker in the JV LD category. Peter Vouthas ’20 also competed in triple-octofinals in Varsity LD, losing to one of the nation’s best debaters.

The following weekend, members of the team traveled to Regis High School for the National Speech and Debate Association Qualifier Tournament in Lincoln-Douglas Debate. Out of the best eighteen competitors from New York, only three would earn a spot at the NSDA National Tournament in Dallas, Texas in June. Chaminade sent Sean Lochner ’19, Peter Vouthas ’20, Charlie Weiler ’20, and Michael Bellia ’21 to compete in this elimination tournament. Ultimately, Vouthas and Weiler earned 1st and 2nd place respectively, securing their tickets to Dallas.

Charlie Weiler ’20 and Peter Vouthas ’20 (l. – r.) pose with the trophies they earned for qualifying for the NSDA National Tournament in the Lincoln-Douglas category.

This past weekend, speech competitors attended NSDA Speech Elims at Syosset High School. Facing tough competition from the five boroughs and all of Long Island, Paul Caruso ’20 earned third place in Program of Oral Interpretation (POI), earning himself a spot at nationals. In the coming weeks, other qualifying tournaments will be held for the Catholic Forensic League Nationals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this May.

Bro. John McGrory, S.M. ’84 reflected on the team’s past few weeks, commenting, “The Chaminade speakers and debaters acquitted themselves well at the National Speech and Debate Association qualifying tournaments. I expect them to represent Chaminade well this June in Dallas. I hope that their showing will repeat itself at our elimination tournaments for Catholic Nationals and for the State Championships.”