Two Hazard High School forensics team members have made a major splash in the debate and public speaking arena. Following showings in both state and national contests, Josi Stidham and Shivani Pampaiti have been invited to several invitation only tournaments at some of the most prestigious locations.
Stidham and Pampaiti recently attended a tournament at Yale University where they debated and presented bills as a part of a congress. The Yale Tournament was broken down into eight chambers with 20 people per chamber. Only 160 students competed and were selected from the best in the country. According to coach Helen Williams, Stidham and Pampati were the only students from Kentucky invited to the event.
“I was thrilled,” Williams said. “It is a big deal, and they were the only two congress competitors in the state that got that invitation.”
All totaled, this national forensics competition had over 1,000 students competing in a number of different disciplines from public speaking to congress. Both Stidham and Pampati compete in multiple disciplines throughout the competition season, but they were invited to this tournament based on their performances during last season’s tournaments.
Of the 20 bills submitted per chamber, only nine were selected for debate in each House and Senate. Both Pampati’s and Stidham’s bills were included.
The event was two days long with hours of debating, an experience that Pampati described as “intense.”
“Prelims were only one day and then finals and semi-finals were another day,” she said.
Despite the packed schedule, Stidham and Pampati were able to walk around the campus and get a feel for the Ivy League school.
Since the girls have created such a name in forensics and are being invited to national tournaments, they said coming up with bills is an around-the-clock job.
“It is just a never ending cycle,” said Pampati. “You turn in bills and you are sitting in class, you might think of another bill. We just constantly have to keep coming up with ideas because there are so many tournaments.”
Both girls stay current on topical issues by watching news networks and reading articles. They said they are currently interested in the presidential election, and in particular the presidential and vice presidential debates.
“I am pretty sure my TV has been on CNN nonstop,” Pampati added.
Along with the need for creating more bills, the students’ debate schedule is also taking a considerable amount of money for travel. Williams said that the entire forensics team at the high school has to fundraise for any trips they take, including local tournaments like those in Hindman.
Knott County is the closest school to Hazard that currently has a speech team, and paying for a bus for the team to go there to compete costs over $300. The team has to pay these expenses, and William said that most of this money is currently coming from her salary from the school. “I donate my salary,” she noted. “That is what we have been traveling on.”
The team is actively looking for sponsors for the team trips like state and regional competitions, but also for the invitation and national trips that are attended by fewer students. Stidham said that it is difficult to get donations since many people regularly donate to the athletic programs.
The students’ next team trip will be to Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, which will be the start of their competitive season.
Stidham said that since she and Pampati have done so well in competitions across the nation, people are starting to take notice.
“All of us appreciate the support from the community,” said Stidham. “We have done speech since we were in fourth grade, and since we were in fourth grade it has been difficult to fund speech and academics. Sports are important, we just wish the community would invest as much time and money into academics as they do sports. It would be a win-win situation for us all.”
Williams said that one of the biggest supporters of the Hazard High School Forensics Team is the city of Hazard and Mayor Nan Gorman. Williams thanked the city for their support as well as the individuals who wish the team good luck.