Chris Goddard, the head speech coach at Upper Arlington High School, says he sometimes compares speech and debate to what is perhaps its closest athletic equivalent, track and field.

Chris Goddard, the head speech coach at Upper Arlington High School, says he sometimes compares speech and debate to what is perhaps its closest athletic equivalent, track and field.

"Kids participate in individual events and points are added up," he said. "To win team awards, you have to have people competing in all 12 or 13 categories, and they have to do well."

The UAHS speech and debate team placed fifth at the Feb. 5 Tarhe Trails district tournament, finishing .75 points behind Perrysburg High School. Six members of the team qualified for the Ohio High School Speech League state tournament, to be held at Whitmer High School March 3-5.

"Winning is nice," Goddard said. "But that's not our main focus. If you're trying to win, your goal is to be the best speaker in the room, always. That's really hard to do."

Instead, he defines success through the development he sees in each individual team member. Goddard's coaching career spans 19 years, with 14 years at UAHS and five years at Gahanna.

"We do it because we think the kids are going to learn confidence, they're going to learn speaking skills, they're going to learn lots of practical things they can use in life," he said.

Dan Ludlum, Cheri Theisen and Abbey Wood serve as assistant coaches.

In recent years, the speech and debate team has had about 35 members, with around 27 competing at an average tournament. Goddard said participation has dropped overall, and that for several years, the team had closer to 50 members.

"When I look back, the two main things I did in high school were speech and debate and yearbook," he said. Students today are pulled in a variety of directions, and may be attracted to other similar opportunities, like mock trial and model United Nations, Goddard said.

"I always tell my students, even if you don't pick debate, I think you should work on being really good at a few things instead of just okay at a bunch of stuff," he said.

Sophomore Tao Quan agrees.

"I've always had something that I've tried to excel at after school," he said. Quan used to play chess competitively and also plays the piano, but he says much of his current extra-curricular time is devoted to international extemporaneous speaking.

He also qualified for state his freshman year. This year, he hopes to advance to the quarterfinal round.

"I think I have the potential to get farther than that, but I have to see," he said. "It's really the luck of the draw."

In international extemporaneous speaking, competitors must answer a foreign affairs question with a seven-minute speech. They are given 30 minutes to write and practice the speech using research materials gathered prior to the tournament.

"It's hard, but I enjoy that it's challenging," Quan said. "You're always worried that you'll get a question you don't know anything about. It's kind of an adrenaline rush for a speechie."

Sophomores Michael Coyle and Niki Ahmadi, who compete as a team in public forum debate, will be making their first trip to the state tournament. Public forum debate requires participants to be able to argue both sides of an issue.

"You have to argue against your own views a lot," Coyle said. At the state tournament, the duo must be prepared to argue either side of the resolution that North Korea poses a more serious threat to United States national security than Iraq.

"Since it's our first year, we're going to work hard and do our best," Ahmadi said. Coyle said they also hope to "attain some respect" for future years of competition.

Junior Polina Brodsky, senior Perry Kleinhenz and junior Stephen Trudeau all qualified for state in the category of impromptu speaking. Goddard said Kleinhenz has placed first at every tournament he competed in this season.

"I'm not sure we've ever had that happen before," he said.

Goddard said he's pleased with the team's accomplishments overall.

"We didn't win as much as we normally win, but the team is younger," he said. "Our freshman, their first year, they're competing against seniors who have done it for four years.

"We have a really good group of younger students that you can just see are going to be so much better next year and the year after."