MSD debate team competes at state competition with two students securing state titles


Mina Dinh

MSD speech and debate students competed in the state championships held by the Florida Forensics League. Noldine Belizaire and Armaan Rajwany both won state titles. Photo courtesy of Mina Dinh

Brynn Schwartz, Associate Editor-in-Chief

On March 8 and 9, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s Speech and Debate team competed at the Florida Forensics League Varsity State Championship in Orlando, Florida and won two state championship titles.

The team submitted four entries. For speech, senior Armaan Rajwany won in Humorous Interpretation and junior Noldine Belizaire won in Program Oral Interpretation. In debate, senior Thomas Heffner and junior Gabby Kessman competed in Public Forum debate. Seniors Jayden Adjodha, Alyssa Robinson and Tyler Opdyke, along with freshman Aesha Bhavsar and junior Mina Dinh, competed in the World Schools Debate event.

“I felt extremely nervous, especially during the final round,” Belizaire said. “My speech this year highlights an extremely personal situation in my life, so I set very high expectations for myself. My coach, Dr. Abraham, got me through my nerves before it was my turn to speak.”

Belizaire’s event, Program Oral Interpretation, requires a lot of preparation. POI is a 10-minute performance, weaving together poetry, prose, speech, comedy and drama into a cohesive piece. POI performances can take months to prepare.

Similarly, Rajwany’s event, Humorous Interpretation, required many hours of preparation. HI is also 10-minutes long, consisting of a pre-cut script, book, movie or play.

“I felt pretty good [while competing],” Rajwany said. “I try not to focus on anyone else while in a round and just on the quality of my own speech. That said, I was aware that the competition at debate states was incredibly difficult, but I stayed confident in myself.”

Both Belizaire and Rajwany won first place in their respective categories.

“I was shocked [when I found out I won],” Belizaire said. “I felt absolutely amazing to know that not only did I win, but my teammate won too. The immense support of my teammates, coach and fellow competitors was extremely comforting.”

Rajwany felt similar, describing the experience as “surreal.” Both teams for debate had winning records, but they were not eligible to advance in the competition.

“Finding out that we were the sixth seed going into a fourth seed break was very disheartening,” Adjodha said. “Knowing that one mistake arguably cost us the whole tournament was sad, but it also made me proud of how well our team did and made me excited to get one more chance at the event in the coming months.”

Adjodha is part of the five-person debate team for the World Schools event. It combines topics that debaters prepare in advance as well as impromptu topics. The team had scheduled practices with Alyssa Robinson as team captain.

“I am really proud of the team and all the efforts we put into this tournament,” Bhavsar said. “I believe that each and every person that competed learned something from this trip and I think that it was a wonderful experience. As a freshman [at my] first tournament, I believe that this tournament taught me so much from those more experienced than me, and I’m super grateful for that.”

The other debate team of Kessman and Heffner competed in Public Forum Debate, which is a two-person debate against another pairing from a different school. Topics of the debate change every month, but they typically focus on current events and relevant topics.

“I felt like we had prepare[d] well through collaboration with the other members of the [debate] team, and I felt as if we had a good case,” Kessman said. “I think we also learned a lot in [our] rounds because we were able to catch up with friends and help each other, as well as have good competition that challenged everyone.”

The speech and debate team is very proud of their teammates, Abraham and the team’s results.

“[I’m] beyond proud [of the team],” Rajwany said. “We took four entries and two of them ended up being state champions. That’s unheard of and I can’t be more grateful.”

Belizaire and Rajwany qualified for the national tournament earlier in March and will be attending from June 12-17 in Louisville, Kentucky.