High school debate tournaments are grueling endeavors — especially if you’re successful enough to advance into the final rounds.
So by the time graduated SM East seniors Luke Bledsoe and Jet Semrick were called to the stage of the National Catholic Forensic League awards ceremony in Milwaukee last weekend, they’d been through a big couple of days.
After performing well over five 90-minute debate matchups over the course of a long Saturday, they’d advanced to Sunday’s final bracket. Four consecutive wins that had put them in the policy debate finals against a familiar foe — Niko Helixon and Maddie Pieropan of nearby Blue Valley Southwest.
SM East debate coach Trey Witt knew the Lancer duo had the talent to make a deep run into the tournament. But the final round had sent off some omens that had him a bit pessimistic. Bledsoe and Semrick had drawn the negative position, which is considered the less favorable position. And over the course of the match, one of the five judges was displaying body language that had Witt convinced the SM East team wouldn’t be getting at least one of the votes.
“I’ll say I didn’t feel too great about it,” he said.
As the two teams stood on the stage an hour and a half after their final match had concluded, the announcer noted that the judges had split 3-2 in voting for the winner. Then, he congratulated Blue Valley Southwest on their runner-up win. The SM East crowd went crazy a moment later when Bledsoe and Semrick were crowned 2019 NCFL Policy Champions:
But Bledsoe and Semrick weren’t the only pair to have a great outing at the tournament, considered one of the premiere events in high school debate and forensics each year.
The duo of Luke Knopke and Reilly Kenney broke into the semi-final round of the duo interpretation event, finishing eighth place overall.
SM East fielded a duo that won the NCFL policy title back in 2015, but this was likely the school’s most successful appearance at the tournament, said Witt, who has led the program since 2008.
“Having both teams do so well was really fun to watch,” Witt said.