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Midvale Journal

Hillcrest forensics team members to compete at nationals in June

May 29, 2022 01:47PM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]


Hillcrest High junior Priyanka Mathews will spend time editing and rewriting her original oratory before she competes in nationals this month.

She and junior Michael Chen will compete in person at the National Speech and Debate Association tournament June 12-17 in Louisville, Ky. Teammates Sofia and Sara Moeinvaziri will compete virtually.

“I’m wanting to improve the writing of the speech itself and practice a ton in front of a bunch of people to get their feedback,” said Mathews, who competed virtually at nationals last year. “My speech is about obedience and its role in society. First, I talk about the Stanley Milgram campaign conducted in the 1960s and his shocking tests on obedience and conformity as well as a couple other experiments. Then, I shift into this culture of political conformity where we feel like we need to be in line with our party and not rebel within the party.”

Mathews finished second at state.

Chen will compete in Lincoln Douglas debate. The Moeinvaziri sisters qualified in public forum, but since they are virtual, they will compete in pro/con online contest.

First-year coach Emily Kunz said after having turnover of coaches the past few years, mixed with the COVID-19 pandemic, it has resulted in a small Hillcrest team of about 12 consistent members.

“It’s been a rebuilding year,” she said. “These students have really had a lot of determination and tenacity to keep going. They’ve really done things on their own; they’re go-getters.”

Kunz said that while many schools have an academic class that supports the team, Hillcrest does not. So, labs have been optional and experienced students have stepped up to coach younger classmates.

“Our students are dedicated to find the time to research their own material, write their speeches and practice. We’ve had students step up in leadership roles to mentor these younger students so they’re not only exception in their events, but exceptional and generous in their time and willingness to help others,” she said.

She pointed out that Sofia has taken on the leadership role of coaching newcomers, especially in public forum.

At state, newcomers Nayantara Nair and Marla Tumenjargel were quarterfinalists after placing fourth at region.

“I’m excited about next year and the direction the team is heading. We have a lot of promise and it’s just fun being around these students,” she said.

That new direction includes the introduction of not one, but two speech and debate classes as more than 50 students have expressed interest.

“I’d love to win regionals with a bigger team,” Kunz said.

This year, she had some top region finishes including Mathews, first in oratory; Moeinvaziri sisters, second in public forum; Dheeraj Vislawath, third in Lincoln Douglas; Thomas Lu, fifth in Lincoln Douglas; Saisha Vankayalapati, fifth in Informative; and Sona Kannan, sixth in student congress.

The Moeinvaziris qualified at the March 5 Sundance national qualifying tournament, one of three tournaments they had in four weeks, sandwiched between other club state competitions and advanced placement and International Baccalaureate classes.

“Debate is always a high stakes competition,” Sofia said. “It was definitely a relief to get first and qualify.”

Now Kunz plans to review judge feedback with the national contenders and be working to do mock competitions.

“I’ve lined up people who have judged at nationals come in and give them feedback, which is always valuable,” she said.

Kunz, who took part in policy debate in high school, is a new teacher at Hillcrest who also practiced law for nine years in New York City.

“As an English teacher, we’re always talking about communicating effectively and supporting it with evidence. I know how to craft an argument and support it with evidence and can help students with that. What they’re doing is so important. I’ve seen the practice side and importance of making an effective argument,” she said. “We have some incredible students at Hillcrest. It has just been a joy to work with these amazing kids