Recognizing the value of high school debate in preparing tomorrow’s leaders, the Stennis Center in 1995 established the John C. Stennis Novice Speech and Debate Tournament at Mississippi State University. The unique feature of the competition is that its focus is on high school students who are just beginning to compete in speech and debate. For many participants, this tournament is their first debate experience. “With a level playing field, the participants are able to build confidence and hone their speaking skills before competing against more experienced students,” said Rex Buffington, executive director of the Stennis Center.
The Stennis Center sponsors the Stennis Novice Speech and Debate Tournament because it develops leadership skills in young people and introduces them to the value of public service.
The tournament began in 1995 with the help of Betty Whitlock, formerly of Clinton High School, and the late Billy Tate, a teacher at Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy and who was also the president of the National Speech and Debate Association. Their vision was to provide an opportunity for new students in speech and debate to compete with each other before taking on more accomplished competitors.
The tournament director is Scott Waldrop, director of forensics at Hattiesburg High School and the former Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) Coordinator for Speech and Debate. The previous tournament director, Randy Patterson, who retired from St. Andrews Episcopal School, also helps organize the tournament each year.
This tournament attracts students from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.