Canyon Crest Academy’s speech and debate team raises volume on competition

The Canyon Crest Academy speech and debate team is ending its most competitive season ever, with one member heading to the National Championship Tournament in June. Courtesy photo

As the school year comes to a close, Canyon Crest Academy’s speech and debate team is wrapping up its most competitive season ever.

After a series of successes, the season is ending with sophomore Catherine Cang headed to the National Championship Tournament in June, following her District Championship win at the National Qualifier.

“These kids are so dedicated and such a wonderful group to be around, it is a pleasure to come to class every week and help channel their enthusiasm and watch their development,” said the team’s head coach, Michael Orfield, a retired Superior Court judge. “We are a young team with a lot of potential.”

The season kicked off with the team scoring third place overall in the Sweepstakes Competition at the League 3 Tournament. From there, Canyon Crest took home its first varsity sweepstakes trophy in the League 5 Tournament, where sophomore Michaela Allen placed first in original prose and poetry, and sophomore Kaleolani Laymon placed second in duo interpretation.

The team then sent three qualifiers to California High School Speech Association’s State Championships for the first time. It was also the first time students competed in both speech and debate competitions.

Kaleolani placed second in dramatic interpretation, earning an automatic berth in the State Championship Tournament. Michaela placed sixth in original prose and poetry, and Kevin Li placed sixth in Lincoln Douglas Debate. Both also went on to the Championships in Murrieta, where Kaleolani ranked in the top third of dramatic interpretation competitors.

“I’m enjoying this immensely,” said Orfield, a Carmel Valley resident. “I’m a retired Superior Court judge, so I’ve had a lot of opportunities to see people talk and debate. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of what speech and debate can be on a professional level.”

A San Diego native, Orfield was a member of Grossmont High School’s speech and debate team when he was in high school.

Orfield stepped in as head coach of the Canyon Crest team in 2012, after the former coach retired. At that time, the group existed as the speech and debate club, which Orfield expanded into a club and a team. The club, which is led by student officers, supports the roughly 30-member team through fundraising.

“Together, these two entities now function to allow the team to move forward,” Orfield explained.

In his first year with the speech and debate team, the team qualified its first student to California High School Speech Association’s State Championships, with two students qualifying for the tournament the following year and three students this year.

“We’ve not only qualified more people each year to state championships, but this last year, we qualified people to both the speech side and the debate side,” Orfield said.

Breaking new school records, Catherine placed first in the District Championship in Lincoln Douglas Debate at the National Qualifier. She and Orfield are headed to the National Championship Tournament June 14-19 in Dallas.

“It makes me proud to see both the speech side and the debate side come into their own,” Orfield said.

Although school may soon be out for the summer, the team is already looking forward to next year.

Next year, the team aims to be even more competitive, entering nine league tournaments instead of six. The team belongs to the San Diego Imperial Valley Speech League, the regional league of the California High School Speech Association.

“The doors are open for them, given their ability to think on their feet, present well and have self-confidence,” Orfield said.

“We have a young team,” he added. “We’re mostly composed of freshmen and sophomores, so we have a chance to take the current crop of people and really work another two or three years with them. We’re also looking forward to a brand new group of freshmen coming in. We’re looking to get bigger and better.”