Ladue high school senior’s skills aren’t up for debate

By Sarah Allen, Junior, Ladue High School

In the world of speech and debate, competition is fierce and success is hard to come by. But Ladue High School senior Emily Bell, who first qualified to the National Forensic League’s (NFL) national tournament as a freshman, has defied the odds by succeeding not only at a local but a national level in Extemporaneous Speaking.

Emily, who became the first four-time national qualifier in the NFL Eastern Missouri District when she qualified to the 2012 national tournament March 10, joined Ladue High School’s speech and debate team in her freshman year. Both of Emily’s brothers, Zach and Jason, participated in debate as well. It was their involvement in the activity, and her friends’ interest in joining, that encouraged Emily to become involved with the activity.

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 “I’d always liked talking and giving presentations, and it seemed like a good way to combine my interest in the world around me and how to effectively communicate that,” Emily said.

Once she became familiar with the myriad of events offered in competition, Emily chose to compete in Extemporaneous Speaking, an activity wherein competitors are allowed 30 minutes to prepare a 7-minute speech on a current events question. Although she now cannot remember why, Emily initially insisted that she would never join Extemporaneous Speaking, often called Extemp.

“Somehow, though, on the first day of debate, I ended up at Extemp,” Emily recalled. “I ended up going to Extemp on the first day and stayed there, and even though I said I would never, ever try it, it became my main thing, which is kind of funny.”

Emily has since proven incredibly successful in the event she swore she would never join. She has twice won the Eastern Missouri NFL district tournament in Foreign Extemp and has seen success on a national level. At the NFL national tournament, Emily advanced to the Top 60 competitors in Domestic Extemp her freshman year and to the Top 60 competitors in Foreign Extemp her senior year. In January, Emily participated at the invite-only tournament hosted by Montgomery Bell Academy in Tennessee, where 20 competitors in Extemp are selected each year to compete.

In addition to working toward national distinction in Extemp, Emily hoped to be part of a team. Throughout her senior year, she worked toward that goal by holding a T-shirt decorating event before the district tournament and ensuring that a team dinner took place after every tournament. Though Emily expresses pride in her accomplishments, she noted that speech and debate is not solely about competition. 

 “Being successful in competition is great, and it’s wonderful, and I’ve learned so much about myself and just about the way different dynamics can form, but one of the most important things I’ve learned from debate is team unity,” Emily said. “Even though I went and I did this individual activity…I still felt like I was supported by not only the team, but also by the Eastern Missouri District as a whole. That meant a lot to me.”