Debating in Dallas, Nine Qualify to the National Tournament


For Tyler Unsell, debate coach and teacher, having students qualify for the National Speech and Debate Association’s National Tournament is routine. Every March, high schools from across this district meet and compete in a double elimination debate tournament to narrow down the substantial pool of potential qualifiers to a select few. This year, Park Hill is sending nine students to Dallas, Texas to further compete against fellow debaters from across the entire United States.

The nine this year came close to meeting a personal record for Park Hill, with the most students sent to National Qualifiers in a single year, which is currently held by the 2012 class, with 11.

“When you qualify a decent number like we did, then you’re eligible for big national awards,” said Unsell. “They call those the Excellence Awards. Two years ago (2016-2017) we were one of the schools of excellence.”

This ranked the team as one of the top ten in the country for Speech and Debate.

“I always get excited. It’s the culmination of their experience, [so] I think all of our qualifiers have a good chance of doing well,” said Unsell.

Junior Elizabeth Appel is among the list of qualifiers, after her spotless 7-0 run at National Qualifiers. Only the top four advance to Nationals.

“I qualified and everyone else kind of battled it out for the other three remaining spots,” said Appel.

The other three spots each went to girls from Liberty High School, who Appel beat back-to-back-to-back.

“I’m really excited,” said Appel. “I’ve never been to Texas, so this is going to be really fun.”

Appel attended Nationals last year as well. “It was the best experience because you’re rooming with your best friends,” she said. “It’s like a combined stressful experience.”

Things also went well for senior Ethan Simon, who has gone to Nationals for a different event every year since his sophomore year. “This year I qualified in Domestic Extemporaneous Speaking and Humorous Interpretation,” said Simon, “but I chose Humorous because it’s my favorite.”

In recent history, Park Hill has come dangerously close to winning a National Award. In 2017, Matt Hayes and Jake Mcfee placed third in the country in Public Forum Debate after a devastating coin-toss loss that costed the duo a chance at the national title.

For students who didn’t quite qualify this year, the excitement and appreciation for the process is still very much there. Sophomore Julius Briscoe said, “It was very stressful, but I gained so much experience from it.”

The nine debaters who qualified, along with Coaches Unsell and Kyle Howe will battle it out against the best debaters in the country in Dallas, Texas this June 16-21.


Sam Cade and Gabe Smith in Policy Debate

Jay Elder and Luke Zahnd in Policy Debate

Elizabeth Appel in Lincoln Douglas

Alex Kalisz in Congressional Debate

Ethan Simon in Domestic Extemporaneous Speaking and Humorous Interpretation

Sabrina Smith in Dramatic Interpretation