It wasn’t too long ago that the Petal High School Speech and Debate Team capped off a successful end to the 2019 school year, with showings at the Harvard National Invitational Forensics Tournament in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the National Catholic Forensic League’s Grand National Tournament in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Now the team has begun a great run for the new school year, recently competing against students from the United States and Canada at two different events in New Orleans: the Delores Taylor Arthur School World Schools Invitational at Loyola Law School and the Navy and Gold Debate and Speech Exhibition at Holy Cross.
The Petal team was the only Mississippi school involved in the World Schools debate, and one of only two Mississippi schools – along with St. Andrew’s Episcopal – to compete at Holy Cross.
“The PHS Speech and Debate Team opener was an amazing success,” team coach Kelly Garner said.
In the Worlds Schools tournament, the Petal team competed against top debate teams from Miami, Florida, as well as teams from Holy Cross, five teams from Western Canada and even the USA National Team. After seven rounds of debate, the team of Breanna Masterson, Max Garner, and Thomas Sanchez was the only undefeated team remaining.
The team of Nathan Marx, Raburn Paris, Nathaniel Short and Anson Chennault had a winning record of 5-2, and both teams made it to the quarterfinal round, in which Short won second and was announced as one of the top speakers in the tournament.
The team of Masterson, Garner and Sanchez advanced to the semifinal round, where the students faced off against Team USA’s A Team. Team USA’s B Team faced Canada.
“The Petal team lost on a 2-1 decision to Team USA but finished with the same record,” Garner said. “The Canadian team also dropped to Team USA in a 3-0 decision, which means that Petal was technically third, but since they lost only to Team USA, they in reality were second.
“This is outstanding. The USA team is comprised of one of the Top 10 debaters nationwide, who have an abundance of experience in the World Schools arena.”
Garner said the coaches from Team USA – who were veteran coaches from the Blake School in Minneapolis, Minnesota – complimented Petal’s team and expressed regret that the team was comprised of seniors, as the coaches were hoping to recruit them for Team USA next year.
“I cannot fully express how monumental this was for our debate program,” Garner said.
After the event at Loyola, the team headed across town to Holy Cross, where team members Grace Robbins and Houston Pugh began the season competing in drama events against schools from 13 different states.
“They had great ballots and high scores as well,” Garner said.
During an awards ceremony at Holy Cross, Garner was presented with the Brother Melchior Polowy Award for Coaching Excellence, which is given to two outstanding speech and debate coaches each year.
“I, along with the National Speech and Debate District Chair for Louisiana, Craig Wall, received this honor,” Garner said. “I am so humbled by these results, and look forward to a spectacular year.”