HAZARD — Two Hazard High School students are gearing up to represent the Commonwealth of Kentucky in the National Forensics League (NFL) competition in Indianapolis this summer.
Hazard High School is the only school in Kentucky to have two students chosen to go to NFL, a national debate and speech competition. What makes this even more remarkable is that both are females and both are only sophomores.
Both of these qualities are rare among the students that compete in congressional debate, and Josi Stidham and Shivani Pampati said they are overjoyed by being selected.
“I screamed,” said Pampati. “Everyone else just clapped, but when they called my name, I was so excited.”
Both Pampati and Stidham are busy students who are also involved in many different extracurricular activities. They said that they don’t tend to be giddy or easily excitable, but they let all of that go and were able to just be happy to be going to the national competition.
“This is the first time we get to compete outside of our state,” said Pampati.
National Forensics League includes debate, speech, mock congress, comedy, poetry, storytelling and impromptu speeches. Both Stidham and Pampati are a part of the congressional debate which is one of the most intensive and involved activities in the program.
“Congressional debate is pretty much like a mock congress,” said Stidham. “Most students write a piece of legislation that we would want passed if we were in the House or the Senate.”
Stidham plays the role of representative while Pampati is a senator, meaning that Hazard High School will be represented in both the House and the Senate at the national competition. While both have competed in speech and congressional debate competitions in the past, the forensics league is the largest and most well-known competition in the speech and debate world.
In order to qualify, students must rank in the top six in their state and are hand selected for the competition. Only four students in the entire state are going to compete at this level.
Stidham and Pampati said that they have learned so much by being involved in congressional debate. They have both become politically aware, and they say that it is this awareness that has made them both who they are. They have written dozens of bills, all with national or international implications.
“They have been debating things such as urban sprawl to No Child Left Behind, they are all contemporary issues,” noted Coach Helen Williams.
Stidham and Pampati have written such bills as an American neutrality bill to keep America out of international disputes, an amendment to No Child Left Behind to hold all students in the United States to the same standard, along with various health care bills and a mandate that every student takes a comparative religion course.
The comparative religion course bill has special significance to both Pampati and Stidham since Hazard High School currently does not offer a religion course.
“Not only do they not have a class, but there is not very much diversity,” said Stidham. “And it is pretty much that way throughout the entire region.”
Pampati is one of only three students at Hazard High School that do not come from the Christian tradition. The hope of the bill is to educate students about various world religions to reduce the number of hate crimes nationwide.
Williams said that she feels like congressional debate is already a supplementary class for her students since Hazard is such a small school and can only offer so many different learning opportunities.
“It is a supplement because we are a small school, so we focus on the English and the math and the science and the history. This provides an alternative to a current events class,” said Williams.
Stidham added that students who are involved in congressional debate tend to be the best and brightest from each state.
“You tend to find that forensics people, when you go to compete you are among the AP students, you’re among the valedictorian, you are among the social activists,” she said.
Both Stidham and Pampati will be going to compete in several more competitions before the nationals. This weekend they will be competing in the state competition in Lexington, and at the end of May they will be traveling to Baltimore to compete in the National Catholic Forensics League. Their appearance at the forensics league will take place in June.
In order to go to all of these competitions and stay in hotels for nearly a week, they are looking to raise funds and get donations. Williams said that they are currently accepting donations currently. For more information about helping these students get to competition you can email Williams at: firstname.lastname@example.org.