Owen Tilman ’23, center, at the National Speech & Debate Association’s annual tournament with fellow Colorado debaters Una Basta (L) of Fairview and Greta Wedel (R) of Longmont

CA Student Takes Third in the Nation in Lincoln-Douglas Debate

Owen Tilman ’23, who was Colorado Academy’s most accomplished Lincoln-Douglas debater during his Junior and Senior years, finished an outstanding career with a third place finish in the National Speech & Debate Association’s annual tournament from June 12-16. Facing the 280 best high school students in the nation, Tilman celebrated his remarkable accomplishment in just the third year of the Speech & Debate program at CA.

Every year the NSDA hosts an end-of-year mega-tournament for students from across the country. This year’s tournament was held in the Phoenix, Arizona, metro area and welcomed several thousand students, coaches, and judges. There are more than twenty different speech and debate events in the competition.

To qualify for this tournament, students had to do well enough in one of two different qualifying tournaments held in their home districts. Tilman qualified for Nationals in March by winning the District 2 qualifier at Cherry Creek High School. He currently holds the CA record for most NSDA points, not including what he earned at Nationals.

This year’s Lincoln-Douglas debate topic was Resolved: government employees have a moral obligation to leak classified information to address injustice. Debaters had to be prepared for both affirmative and negative sides of the argument. With six preliminary rounds (with two judges in each) to show what they can do, students who earned a win-loss record of at least 8-4 advanced to what are called “out rounds.” At most tournaments, one loss in the out rounds knocks you out of the tournament, but at Nationals, given the depth and quality of the competition, it is double elimination. Another judge is added in out rounds, too, so that a total of three judges decide on the winner.

After advancing past the first break, Tilman won his next six rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday, securing 16 out of 18 possible judges’ ballots.

On Thursday Tilman made it all the way to the semifinal round, where he lost to a competitor from Nevada, narrowly missing being on stage for the final debate—held Friday at the Phoenix Convention Center in front of 3,000 spectators. In the end he finished the tournament in third place and also came in 13th in total speaker points. The top six finishers in this event were called up to the stage to receive their moment in the spotlight, as well as a large trophy. For being in the top three, Tilman also earned a $250 scholarship.

Primarily thanks to his great record at this tournament, CA as a school earned recognition as a 2023 School of Excellence in Debate, one of 20 such schools to receive public recognition and a trophy at the awards ceremony.

In addition to event qualifiers, schools may bring up to two additional students to compete in special “supplemental” events. These are speech and debate competitions that are rarely offered during the regular school year; therefore, most students are trying these events for the first time. Two rising Sophomores, Kit Freeman and Keren Laizer, were invited to come to the tournament and compete in Impromptu Speaking (Kit) and Extemporaneous Commentary (Keren). Both of these events involve students presenting a 4-5-minute speech on a topic they are given only a few minutes before. Despite the quick turnaround, they are expected to speak coherently and cogently without notes, as well as be persuasive and entertaining. It’s a tall order, but both students did very well, receiving positive comments from the judges.  

From left, Kit Freeman and Keren Laizer

In other news from the end of the Speech & Debate season: several students competed in online tournaments in April and May. Among the highlights were first place finishes for Seniors Sasha Yuffa and Sofie Henry in Duo at the NJDSL Speech Festival and the ASYNC Spring Spectacular. Rising Sophomore Tatum Kreitler placed third in Drama at the NJDSL. Noah Keil finished in second place out of 40 competitors in Impromptu at the Florida Funvitational. And rising Junior Aziza Diallo finished sixth out of more than 50 competitors in the Spoken Word category at that same tournament.