National Champions


Petal High School student Jaelin Imanni Montgomery placed fifth in the National Speech and Debate Tournament, which was held June 18-23.

More than 150,000 student members make up the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA).

Kelly Clark Garner and Skye Morgan were Montgomery’s mentors, who coached her on to place as a finalist in the world’s largest academic competition.

The National Speech and Debate Tournament was held in Birmingham with more than 4,000 qualifying competitors.

The top placing students received more than $200,000 in scholarship money, in addition to taking home a National Championship title.

“It is quite an accomplishment to qualify to the National Speech and Debate Tournament,” said J. Scott Wunn, Executive Director of the National Speech and Debate Association. 

“Only 3 percent of high school speech and debate competitors qualify, and less than 1 percent of speech and debate students can call themselves a national champion,” he added. “These students are extraordinarily talented and we look forward to the great things they will do with their talents in the future.”

The top six National Speech and Debate Tournament finalists in Poetry Reading include the following: sixth place, Isaiah McDermott of Morristown West High School in Morristown, Tennessee, who was coached by Suzanne W. Terry; fifth place, Jaelin Imanni Montgomery of Petal High School in Petal, who was coached by Kelly Clark Garner and Skye Morgan; fourth place, Gracie Wilson of Central High School in San Angelo, Texas, who was coached by Julie Schniers; third place, receiving a $250 scholarship, Maggie Wenhui He of Hononegah High School in Rockton, Illinois, who was coached by Matt Mazur; second place, receiving a $500 scholarship, Alexandra Knighton of Freehold Township High School in Freehold Township, New Jersey, who was coached by Caryn Miller.

The title of National Champion, a scholarship of $1,000 to Western Kentucky University and a $400 Hall of Fame Scholarship went to Lalee Ibssa of Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park, Florida, who was coached by Nathan Johnston.

The NSDA has hosted the National Tournament in cities across the country since 1931.

The 2018 National Tournament event will be held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with the 2019 event to be held in Dallas, Texas.  For more information, visit

The National Speech and Debate Association is the largest interscholastic speech and debate organization serving middle school, high school and collegiate students in the United States.

The Association provides competitive speech and debate activities, high-quality resources, comprehensive training, scholarship opportunities and advanced recognition to more than 150,000 students and coaches every year.

For 90 years, the National Speech and Debate Association has empowered more than 1.5 million members to become engaged citizens, skilled professionals and honorable leaders in our society. For more information, visit