Meet the voices of Speech and Debate!

Catherine Esper, Sophomore Contributor

It’s that time of the season where members of the Canfield Speech and Debate Team head off to state and then nationals.

With these significant tournaments in mind, questions become: How do students get this far? What does it take to be in speech and debate? What is the commitment like? 

These questions and more were answered by our very own speech and debate students Joshua Farley, Vincent Machuga and Anthony Biondillo. 

Sophomore Josh Farley participates in U.S. Extemporaneous Speaking and focuses on discussing current U.S. news. His practices run on Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours. This time allows him to practice skills that will help him perform effectively at tournaments. The ability to think quickly and productively comes in handy for Josh as he only receives 30 minutes to learn, plan, and write a speech to present to the judges. He’s been competing since his freshman year and has qualified for both state and nationals this year. But these accomplishments didn’t come without hard work. 

“It was definitely a lot of hard work to get where I am this year. You have to be willing to put a lot of preparation and work into your speech. It takes some time. You need to give it your best at practice and make sure your speeches are well written and polished,” Farley said. 

When compared to other categories, Josh and his teammates are somewhat excluded from other members on the team. 

He said, “It’s very isolated from the rest of speech because we’re in the prep room all day during tournaments. It takes a lot of time to get our stuff ready. We just go from round to round all throughout the day.” 

Josh may not see people from other categories, but the closeness of the Extempers is another story. 

“You definitely get closer to anyone you come in contact with at the tournaments,” he said. “Everyone understands the process. We get close with Extempers from other schools because it’s just us, 30 people that see each other all the time. Everyone knows each other.” 

Extemp requires Josh to keep constant tabs on recent news.

“There are so many aspects to giving a successful speech. Staying up to date in the news is the most important thing, which is why our work is never really over. If you don’t know the latest news, it becomes a whole lot harder to come up with speeches quickly,” Farley said.

Vincent Machuga, a participant of Original Oratory for three consecutive years, has a different job than Josh. At the beginning of the speech season, junior Machuga writes his own speech on a topic he chooses. He then performs his speech at tournaments with the intention to influence the judges to think differently. He works tirelessly throughout the season to perfect his speech in every possible way.

Machuga said, “There is always something to work on. You do give the same speech every day, and it can get boring sometimes, but since it’s something that you created, you become very passionate about it. You need to be passionate about your speech. If not, it will show.” 

Vince attends practice once a week for 30 minutes to practice his speech with his coach. Vince chose to write about how humor can be used to help with everyday problems.

He has found his method and learned how to create and perfect his speeches, but it hasn’t always been this way. 

“Being a freshman coming into speech was very difficult because I had been practicing baseball for years beforehand. That was all I knew. Going into speech, I don’t know what to expect,” he said.  

The pressure was not only coming from speech but from his family as well. His grandpa, mom, and aunt all participated in Speech and Debate and were state and national qualifiers. 

Machuga said, “It was very difficult. I put a huge level of stress on myself to live up to the expectations of my family. It was difficult for me because they did so well, and I wanted to do well for them.” 

But Vince has used the experience from his family to guide his own speech career: “As I freshman, I was thinking about doing humor, but my aunt really drove home the fact that you can truly change someone’s mind using the words you say.” 

This year is a very important year for Vince, as he qualified for both state and nationals. When he found out he had qualified for nationals, he said, “I started breaking down crying. It was a little bit daunting at first, but once you do it, it’s one of the best feelings in the world.” 

When times get rough, Vince always relies on hope: “It’s keeping the hope up that you’re here for a reason and that you can do this. You shouldn’t put so much stress on yourself that it makes you doubt yourself.”

On the flip side, Anthony Biondillo participates in Debate, specifically in Public Forum. This category requires a pair of partners to debate on the implementation of specific political issues. Senior Biondillo has participated in debate for four years alongside his partner Angelo Cestone. They both attend practice every Monday and Thursday for two hours each day and look back at previous tournaments to see what they can improve on. 

They’ve learned a lot since then.

“As a freshman, we had no clue what we were doing. As we moved on, we’ve learned a lot,” said Biondillo. “Angelo and I have a dynamic where we each found our different roles. I do a lot more of the research and prepare our responses to our competitor’s arguments, whereas Angelo does casework and forms our arguments. We both found our strengths, found the right dynamic, and went with it.” 

Anthony’s work ethic is something to marvel at, as he spent 50 hours a week in the time leading up to state and national qualifying tournaments during his junior year. This time paid off, as he has made it to state all four years of his debate career.

 Not only has he had success in his work, but he has made very close friends throughout the program.

“We try to prep during practice, but usually it becomes just enjoying the people that you’re around. That’s what really makes the program. Three of my closest friends have come from being in Public Forum,” Biondillo said.

Anthony tries to be a role model for the freshmen and works with them often to give them advice for their future.

He said, “I try to push three things: work ethic, love for the program, and willingness to ask for help.”

State competition is a two-day tournament that occurs March 5-7. The top competitors in every single district qualify for state and compete for top spots to make it to the final round of the competition. Nationals is a four-day tournament that is hosted this year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Thousands of students from around the United States come to show off their talents, and some of our very own students will be joining them.