The novel coronavirus won’t stop Noah Harman from competing in the Tournament of Champions this year but it will alter the playing field.
In an unprecedented move, the annual national competition for high school speech and debate teams will be conducted entirely online. That is possibly a first for a national circuit speech tournament.
The Tournament of Champions (TOC) will keep its scheduled dates of April 17-20 but won’t be held at its traditional site at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Instead, Noah Harman will be among those 1,100 participating speech and debate team members from 289 schools in 40 states who will compete from home in a speech category. The debate contestants will perform live online.
“It’s a rather monumental undertaking,” said Dolores Muller, head coach of Wauseon Speech and Debate. “I’m glad it’s possible because the kids have worked hard. (Speech and debate is) no easy accomplishment, so it’s nice for them to see it to completion.”
This is the second year a member of the WHS speech and debate team has reached the TOC, which is considered the national championship of the national speech and debate circuit. Last year, WHS senior Christian Cantu traveled to the UK campus and reached the quarterfinal event.
Noah, a junior who last year placed second in the “Program Oral Interpretation” category at the Ohio Speech and Debate Association Tournament in Akron, came in fourth this school year at the Sylvania Rotary Invitational and third at the Sharon B. Althoss Rotary Invitational in Wooster, Ohio. Those wins qualified him for this year’s TOC event.
Noah’s presentation will be “Perfect,” a 10-minute performance “about the challenges of a parent/child relationship with a parent who expects perfection because they haven’t achieved it themself,” Muller said. The performance also weaves in a message about abusive parents.
“It’s pretty deep stuff,” Muller said. “To me, his ultimate message is, even though it’s tough, it’s possible to prevail.”
The difference is that Noah has to prerecord his speech performance for the online competition rather than perform it live in front of the judges. The restrictions of Governor Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus also meant that he couldn’t rehearse with Muller in traditional fashion in a WHS classroom. Instead, she critiqued him during online rehearsals.
“It’s been different, but I’m grateful, because it wouldn’t be possible otherwise,” Muller said. “He has risen to the occasion and has been at his best at every practice. He’s been a trooper.”
Noah prerecorded his speech performance on Tuesday after consulting with Muller, and placed it on an online platform specified by the TOC. During specific rounds of the tournament judges will view the performance and leave comments Noah can read later.
Because his performance is prerecorded, Noah had the advantage of taping it more than once and choosing the one he considered best. “I’m really glad that he gets to decide because it’s his choice. It’s as close as he can get without performing live,” Muller said.
Noah said he’ll miss the experience of traveling to Kentucky for the tournament, but “when something like this happens with your country it’s life-altering, and you end up needing to adapt.”
He prerecorded his performance twice, using the first to test audio and framing and adjust the camera accordingly. He said he’s satisfied with the recording he submitted, calling it “definitely one of my top performances.”
Noah said while there is an advantage to recording his submission, it can prove intimidating. “If there is a mistake I don’t catch because I’m blinded by it, it goes through to every single round,” he said.
Recording also doesn’t offer what a live performance can, he said. “One of the main parts of interpretation events is having an audience and being able to gauge off their reactions on how to perform,” he said.
Muller said this year’s National Speech and Debate Tournament, which will also be held online, is watching the TOC with interest, to determine whether it’s successful in the new venue.
While she prefers the interaction and sense of community the traditional TOC event offers, “if it’s that or nothing, I’ll go online.”
Noah said he’s fine with the online version of TOC. “It’s either this or be canceled, so everybody has to step up and do their part to have an experience like this,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.