More than 800 high school students converged on Neosho last Friday and Saturday to participate in the annual Neosho Speech and Debate Invitational tournament.

More than 800 high school students converged on Neosho last Friday and Saturday to participate in the annual Neosho Speech and Debate Invitational tournament.  
Thirty six high schools competed in 11 events ranging from multiple categories of debate including Lincoln-Douglas, policy, and public forum to oratory, and acting competitions. The event began Friday afternoon and continued through awards on Saturday evening to honor the winners in each category.
The tournament has been a Neosho tradition since the first one was held in 1954, sponsored by the National Forensic League (NFL).  Neosho High School curriculum has included a speech and debate program since December 1916.  In the sixty three years since the first tournament occurred in Neosho, it has been cancelled just once, three years ago for inclement weather.
Numerous Neosho and area residents served as judges at the tournament.  Debate coach and Neosho high school instructor David Watkins stated, “We could not pull this (tournament) off without the support of the Neosho community. Competitors and coaches alike compliment how friendly everyone in our community is and it is a major reason why these schools return year after year to compete.”
Neosho High School debate and theater students work behind the scenes to host the tournament. This year 85 students were involved.  Students are instrumental in preparing to host the annual event.  During the tournament, students are on hand at the judges table to distribute ballots to arriving judges, at the ballot return table, in the tabulation room to confirm the results of each event, in the hospitality room, and in other behind the scenes area.  Volunteer judges are from many diverse occupations and many judge each year.
    “The Neosho students take much pride in running a positive tournament for their peers from other schools.  They want their friends from other schools to receive a positive, competitive experience while here,” Watkins said.
     Since the Neosho tournament is the last chance to participate in a Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) sanctioned event before districts, it is a popular destination for students competing to advance to districts, state, and national competitions.
Watkins noted that, “Many are surprised that the host school never competes.  That is how all our speech and debate tournaments work. The host school runs the tournament and provides a service to the competitors, which is returned to us when we travel and compete at their school.”
    Judges, debate coaches, and faculty from competing school districts enjoyed the hospitality room, staffed by drama and theater students.  The hospitality room provided drinks, snacks, a Friday evening meal, as well as both breakfast and lunch on Saturday.
    The annual Neosho Speech and Debate tournament is a long standing local tradition that celebrates the accomplishments of young people from the region.