People trickle into the dim room on Friday afternoon and congregate in the middle of the room among the clustered chairs and pile of backpacks, which are strewn across the floor. The students talk amongst themselves and the sound of lively conversations and a laid back atmosphere soon fills the room. As the clock ticks by in the corner of the classroom, more members join the meeting, and one young woman enters, who begins to lead a discussion.

This, the inaugural year for Andover High School’s brand new Competitive Speech and Debate Team, commences. Now, all AHS students have the opportunity to competitively participate in speech and debate tournaments in the Massachusetts Forensics League, unlike during previous years.

Amrutha Pal is team captain and one of the founding members. A big motivator for Pal to create the team was her past experience with debating. Pal was a member of North Andover High School’s competitive debate team. “When I was a freshman, I really loved it,” said Pal. “I looked forward to the tournaments, I looked forward to preparing, and I looked forward to the team meetings, and the car rides- it was just a ton of fun.”

Larisa and Melisa Kreismanis share similar thoughts, and are co-mentors and leaders of the speech portion of the team. The sisters are strikingly similar in appearance, and both held an air of confidence as they took their seats. Both the sisters were introduced to competitive speaking as middle school students at the Pike School and have since then carried their knowledge into AHS. “I’ve always loved public speaking and I think it’s a huge part of presenting yourself,” says Melisa Kreismanis. “It really helps in real life situations, such as applying for a job interview, college interview, and really knowing how to talk to people…it’s just something I really like to do.”

Although the team has just started recently- their first competition was October 25, at the Sacred Heart High School- they are busy preparing for their very first tournament. This year is the team’s foundation to build off of, so the team isn’t necessarily looking for a win just yet. One of the founders, Alec Zhang, a junior, said,  “This is the first year so we really want to just get it started and see what we can improve on.”

The excitement in the students is evident as the team plans for their upcoming tournament. Although the meeting has a laid back atmosphere, their eagerness to compete is both inspiring and amazing. The idea of public speaking is a daunting task for so many, but for these students, it is a source of enjoyment and fun. “Public speaking is such a vital part of engaging yourself in the real world,” says Melisa Kreismanis. “Public speaking is one of the main things that people are afraid of…so I really think that if we get more people involved and get people comfortable with public speaking it will help them and benefit them in the future.”

Mr. Hopkins, the club advisor, sits at a desk on the side of the classroom, observing the meeting, and helps Amrutha distribute information. “The students made it happen,” says Hopkins. “I just give them a place to do their thing. They are very self-motivated and driven.”

Since the team has no coaches, the students have taken it upon themselves to coach each other, and help one another improve their public speaking skills. Both the Kreismanis sisters serve as mentors for the members, and some of the debate students also help coach each other, and advise which points should be used in the competition. The students may also have the ability to utilize online help, however. Larisa Kreismanis said, “There’s a great online speech coaching program [in which] coaches mentor kids through Skype. It’s a company called 3p speech.” The coaches involved in the program are very experienced and could potentially provide lots of support and help for the students.

One might ask, why is there a new debate team when there is already a debate club? The question may seem valid, but in actuality, competitive speech and debate team is very different from the pre-existing debate club. Pal, a member of both clubs, said, “The thing is, you can be part of debate club and debate team because they’re both different. They don’t have the same goals.” The debate club’s big days to shine are the debate days held here at Andover High. However, the debate team has competitions against other schools, providing students an opportunity to compete on the local and national level, a large step-up from competing at the school.

Although the team has a healthy number of participants, Pal hopes that more people join in the fun. “Members are always welcome,” Pal said, with a big smile on her face. “Bring friends, you’re allowed to have partner events and everything.”

Pal drives the team, and hopes that the new, less experienced members get to experience the same excitement and joy she felt herself when she debated competitively at her old high school.

“I hope that when [the team] goes to the novice tournament they feel the same way I felt freshman year. I want to get them to the first tournament and then have that experience drive them,” says Pal.

By Mari Nagahara