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South Dakota students succeed at national speech and debate tournament

National Speech and Debate Association
Trophies from the National Speech and Debate Tournament.

South Dakota debaters shined in a variety of events at this year’s national speech and debate tournament.

Over 6,000 students from across the country competed at the tournament in Phoenix, Arizona. This year, South Dakota students had an impressive showing.

Kira Waldhalm receiving their trophy for their fourth place finish.
National Speech and Debate Association
Kira Waldhalm receiving their trophy for their fourth place finish.

Kira Waldhalm just graduated from Harrisburg High School and will be studying political science and environmental studies at Middlebury College in the fall. They placed fourth in Lincoln-Douglas debate at the tournament.

“You just debate by yourself and it’s more based on like philosophical or moral topics based on like what one should do instead of being more anchored on like public policy or things like that," Kira said.

For example, at the national tournament they debated on if there was a moral obligation for government employees to leak classified documents.

Kira said debate has been important throughout high school.

“I think it’s really just developed me as a person and made me so much more of a critical thinker than I ever was before debate, because I’m so much more informed about different issues within our society, and I think it’s shaped me into the person I am," they said.

Sioux Falls Washington Debate Twitter
Jack Hinrichs, center, at the award ceremony for impromptu speaking.

Another student, Jack Hinrichs just graduated from Washington High School. Next fall he will be studying economics and public policy at Arizona State University.

He placed fourth in impromptu speaking at the national tournament.

“I would never have been the person I am today if it wasn’t for the skills that speech and debate gave me. But also the community that speech and debate gave me it is truly a remarkable group of people that we have in South Dakota, going every weekend to speech and debate tournaments, and I am honored to have been one of them," Jack said.

He said the friends he has made are what he will remember the most from his time debating.

Kerry Konda with student Kayla Waltman and assistant coach Mariah Williams.
Kerry Konda Twitter
Kerry Konda, left, with Kayla Waltman, center, and assistant coach Mariah Williams.

Kerry Konda is Aberdeen Central High School’s head speech and debate coach.

His team saw success at the national tournament, with multiple students receiving awards in their events. Lily Williams placed second in big questions debate and Kayla Waltman placed ninth in informative speaking.

One student, Abiah George, was national student of the year runner-up. That's an award given to a graduating senior who has outstanding character and has used speech and debate to help their community.

Konda said schools need to keep funding speech and debate programs.

“They're kind of expensive to do because of the judging and the travel is necessary for it, but it provides such a huge platform for kids, and the intellectual development that they have from debate is outstanding. And it's one of those things that schools need to continue to make sure that they fund and find coaches for," he said.

Konda said debate is an important way for students to build their research and speaking skills.

Madeline Grabow is a South Dakota Public Broadcasting intern based in Sioux Falls. She is a sophomore at Georgetown University studying international politics.