Photo courtesy SISD

Americas High hosts first-ever virtual speech, debate tournament in El Paso

Americas High School hosted nearly 170 students in the Americas High School TFA Virtual Individual Qualifying Tournament, the first-ever virtual speech and debate tournament to take place in El Paso.

Irene Gardea, an Americas High School teacher who was named the 2020 National Speech and Debate Coach by the National Speech and Debate Association, took initiative in planning the event hoping it would allow El Paso students an opportunity to practice their skills despite having to do it in a virtual setting.

“It basically became a question of ‘How do we give these kids the opportunity to compete?’” Gardea said. “So, we volunteered first just to show people that it could be done.”

More than 20 schools participated in the event – held September 24 and 25 – including schools from across the state who reached out to participate when they heard about the tournament.

She said she hopes this will set a precedent for other schools and future events, and that it will encourage students to find ways to overcome challenging circumstances.

Although they were delving into the unknown by participating in a virtual tournament for the first time, the speech and debate students were more than excited and grateful for the opportunity to compete in a variety of events, including congressional debate, extemporaneous speaking, and dramatic interpretation.

Based on the events they participated in, students competed in live synchronous events before a panel of judges and asynchronous events which were pre-recorded and reviewed by a single judge.

“It is really thanks to Ms. Gardea that we had a season despite the circumstances, especially in these unprecedented times where we are discussing matters that are really important right now,” said Danina Castro, a junior at Americas. “As a teacher, Ms. Gardea went above and beyond, but especially as our coach.”

Originally, Gardea expected to only have El Paso teams participate, but after word got out about her recent national award, she was contacted by other teams throughout the state who wanted to participate in the tournament.