National Speech & Debate Champion

Kaden Jones '23 was named the Tournament Champion in the Program of Oral Interpretation at the University of Kentucky's Tournament of Champions (TOC)–University School's first TOC Championship! Previously, he won two national circuit tournaments at George Mason University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Under the leadership of their coach, Mr. Lewis '00, five additional Speech and Debate members also qualified for the TOC. The teams of Colin Hsieh '24 and Aidan Krishnaney '25, and Ryan Wang '25 and Zain Anwar '25 competed in Public Forum Debate. Justice Arai '24 competed in Original Oratory.

Kaden Jones '23 has only been participating in Speech & Debate for two years, and remarkably, this is his first year competing in the Program of Oral Interpretation (POI) event. In this event, competitors choose their own topic and develop a performance that includes portraying a range of characters and interpreting from many sources around a theme. Kaden's POI was "America is in a civil war with itself." He said, "I'm basically talking about American exceptionalism at its attack on the youth, how it is affecting our future. I pulled from sources such as satire from The Onion ("gum control"), "This is America" by Childish Gambino, and the poem "Climate Change" by Rudy Francisco, it's not the climate change you're thinking of."

When Kaden reflected on his Tournament of Champions title, he did think about his "disappointing" third-place finish in the event at the state competition. "When I got third, I was like, ok, that's not terrible, I didn't fail, but I didn't get what I was striving for. Because in everything that I do, I think 'reach for the stars.' That's what your goal should be, to be the best possible that you can be, don't limit yourself."
He described how he took that third-place finish, and instead of getting discouraged, used it as fuel for improvement. "I perfected my characters, I made sure my voices were distinct as I switched up. I made sure I knew my thing perfectly. I made sure I stayed more poised, I just went to work."
His extra work paid off. As Kaden and his teammates held their breath–hoping not to hear the words "University School" until the very last–they were rewarded, and able to breathe, when the POI tournament champion was announced. "I was so happy and I was so shocked. I was happy to do it for US, happy to do it for the Bahamas, I was happy to do it for my community- Caribbeans, immigrants, Black people, I was just extremely happy to be that voice and be that person to convey the message."
Kaden encourages anyone and everyone to try Speech and Debate. "I think it is one of the most important things for any individual to learn. You're going to become a better speaker. You are going to be able to articulate yourself far better and communicate your thoughts and ideas way easier. I think it works for everybody. People who want to work in corporate, probably it's going to work the most for you. I want to work in the arts, and I think when it comes to writing screenplays, writing poetry, writing dramas, you are going to be able to better articulate your ideas. You will be able to think stronger, think faster, have better conversations with people, and make sure you are understood. Also, it's a great way to meet other people and become aware of a lot of things that are going on. Hearing different perspectives and getting information that you wouldn't usually get is always good. That will always help you as a person."

The following is the speech expertly delivered by Mr. Lewis at assembly about this remarkable season for the Speech and Debate Team:

Is your season over yet? As a speech and debate coach, I’m constantly answering that question. 

For those of you who do speech and debate at US or have friends or siblings whom do speech and debate, you already know the answer to that question. If we do our jobs correctly, then our season is very long. Sometimes it can seem eternal. We start our season in September by traveling to the University of Kentucky for the season opener. This year (because we did our jobs correctly) our season will end at the National Speech and Debate Association’s national tournament in June. After that season many of our students will attend summer debate camps to sharpen their skills. Some will even work the camp that we host here at US. And then we’ll start a whole new season in September. 

Not all schools compete with this level of intensity. The fact that we can do so is a mark of our great privilege and the access we have to resources. We are also blessed with an incredibly supportive administration in Mr. Gallagher, Dr. Daughtrey, our business office, and countless others. 

But our school’s dedication to this activity (and our tradition of success) is also a testament to the students who make up the backbone of our program.  They are the ones who ride the buses through the country’s backroads, they are the ones who stay up late (much later than they should) researching and writing cases, they are the ones who hang out in the history wing until late in the night running rounds, running drills, and building each other up. I want you guys to know that I am so proud to be your coach. You have proven to be a team of uncommon men. 

Speech and Debate is hard.  It has arcane and esoteric conventions that create a steep learning curve. And sometimes when you think you have figured it out, things fall apart and you lose. It doesn’t help that we compete in a district that is by far the most difficult in Ohio and is one of the most competitive in the nation. The activity teaches resilience if you allow it to. 

I say that because our team just competed at one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year, the University of Kentucky’s Tournament of Champions. (TOC) To qualify you must earn bids at highly competitive tournaments that feature teams from all around the country. It features the best of the best at a national tournament and its championship is highly coveted. We came into this season with a total of… 0 TOC championships in our school’s history. We qualified six students this year and each of the students has a story of resilience. 

Junior Justice Arai qualified in Original Oratory. Justice did debate for the last two years and decided to switch to speech. He struggled throughout the season (in fact he didn’t even qualify for the state tournament) but never gave up. Thanks to a strong performance at the University of Pennsylvania and an online tournament, he was able to earn the necessary bids. 

Sophomores Zain Anwar and Ryan Wang competed in Public Forum Debate. Last year but Zain and Ryan struggled in their respective events. This year they decided to transfer as a duo into Public Forum debate. I must admit I was a bit skeptical about their partnership, but they proved me wrong twice: first by advancing to the quarterfinal round of George Mason University’s tournament and then by qualifying for Ohio’s state tournament. 

Sophomore Aidan Krishnaney and Junior Colin Hsieh also competed in Public Forum debate. Colin was the only returning member of the team who had previously qualified for the TOC. They both had huge aspirations of making it to TOC. But at tournament after tournament, they failed to get a bid. We were extremely worried when they did not qualify for Ohio’s state tournament in February. It was clear that their season was coming to a swift and lackluster end.

But someone forgot to tell Aidan and Colin. They refused to give up and had one of the greatest turnarounds I’ve seen in speech and debate. In the span of four weeks they
  • advanced to the round of 16 at the University of Pennsylvania Tournament
  • went from not qualifying for states to qualifying for nationals 
  • finished in the top 20 at the Ohio State Tournament.

Senior Kaden Jones has not had to deal with much adversity this year in his event, Program of Oral Interpretation. (POI) He’s just won. Kaden competed in four Ohio regular season tournaments… and won them all. He won tournaments at George Mason University and the University of Pennsylvania. He qualified for nationals. He was unbeatable.

And then states happened. At states, Kaden put on the performance of his life and still finished only third. We had hoped we would add another state championship to the window of Room 206… but failed to do so this year. It was the first time Kaden had to deal with speech and debate adversity this season. How would he respond?

On Saturday competition began at the University of Kentucky. Rounds are spread throughout the day so there really is no time for students to relax or have fun. The competition began at 8 a.m. for some of our team and the team got back to the hotel around 9 p.m. Fortunately, Kaden was locked-in all weekend. There were times when we’d be sitting together during downtime and I’d look around to see that Kaden was missing. It turns out that Kaden had slipped away to practice parts of his piece and to fine-tune the delivery and blocking. He talked to A LOT of walls that weekend.

Kaden advanced first to the semifinal round and then the final round. In speech and debate, results are not announced until the final awards ceremony. Needless to say, it’s brutal. 

When Kaden got out of finals, he was cautiously optimistic. His teammates were supportive and praised his performance… and all we could do was wait for awards. 
This has been a long speech and debate season full of ups and downs. But when it’s all said and done it comes down to this…. 

The Tournament of Champions has existed since 1972. In January of 2023, University School had 0 TOC champions in the tournament’s 51-year history. As of April 17, 2023, we now have one champion, Kaden Jones. That is an amazing accomplishment and it belongs to our team and all of us in this amazing community.

Hail University! 

Thank you and good morning. 

    • Kaden Jones '23, a three-time winner in national speech and debate competitions.

    • The Speech and Debate team members that competed at the Tournament of Champions: Colin Hsieh '24, Aiden Krishnaney '25, Kaden Jones '23 with his tournament award, Ryan Wang '25, Justice Arai '24, and Mr. Lewis. Not pictured is Zain Anwar '25.

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