Free State debate duo nabs 3rd at nationals in coach’s last season

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Des Moines, Iowa — Sophie Racy and Connor Brown placed third in the nation in policy debate after 14 rounds of debating over four days at the National Speech and Debate Tournament. 

Students from both Free State and Lawrence High found success in a variety of events at the national tournament in Des Moines, Iowa.

Free State was named a 2024 School of Excellence in Debate, designating it as one of the country’s top 20 schools for debate. 

Connor Brown and Sophie Racy hold their trophies and the 2024 School of Excellence in Debate trophy Friday at the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa. (Contributed photo)

Ava Ayala finished in eighth place in original spoken word poetry and made the double octofinals in poetry. Lena Hasiuk made the semifinals in senate congressional debate. Anwen Williams made the octofinals in international extemp. Gillian Sellet made the octofinals in original spoken word poetry. 

“Our students had an incredibly successful tournament and I am very proud of how they competed,” Thompson said.

The school has built up a tradition of national success in speech and debate under the tenure of coach Kelly Thompson.

Thompson is leaving the role this year. He is a two-decade veteran of debate as a competitor and coach. Under his direction, the Free State speech and debate team won multiple national and state championships. 

He called his time at Free State the pinnacle of his career.

“I’ve been blessed beyond measure and I’m so proud of all that our students and coaches have achieved,” Thompson said.

Thompson was named the Kansas Debate Coaches’ Invitational Coach of the Year five times and was named the Educator of the Year by the Kansas Speech Communication Association twice.

He plans to take a job outside teaching with the Kansas Department of Transportation. 

Lawrence High sent a group of students of which only one was a senior. Junior Adelle Spiess made it to the quarterfinals of house congressional debate. 

“These students have worked really hard to get to the national tournament,” Lawrence High debate coach Jeff Plinsky said. “Every year we set this as a goal, and this year we qualified a good group.”

Lawrence High School qualified seven debate students for the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa. (Contributed photo)

The young group was exciting for Plinksy as he looked ahead to what the team could continue to achieve. 

“Only one of these students was a senior, so most of this group will be back,” Plinsky said. “That’s always exciting, knowing that we are bringing back that kind of experience and leadership.”

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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