National Speech and Debate Association

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National Speech & Debate Association
Nonprofit organization
Founded 1925
Headquarters Ripon, Wisconsin
Key people
Donald Eugene Crabtree, President
Pam Cady Wycoff, Vice President
J. Scott Wunn, Executive Director

The National Speech and Debate Association, (formerly the National Forensic League) is the largest interscholastic speech and debate organization serving middle school, high school, and college students in the United States. The Association provides competitive speech and debate activities, resources, training, scholarship opportunities, and advanced recognition[clarification needed] to over 130,000 students and coaches every year.

The National Speech and Debate Association is the oldest and largest high school speech and debate honor society in the world. The Association is one of four major national organizations which direct high school competitive speech and debate events in the United States. The other three are the National Catholic Forensic League or NCFL, the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association or NCFCA, and Stoa.

The National Speech & Debate Association Board of Directors meets twice a year for rules revision. It votes on each rule change, which affects the entire high school forensics community.

On May 17, 2013, the National Forensic League Board of Directors voted to change the name of the organization to the National Speech and Debate Association.[1]

Code of Honor[edit]

Members of the National Speech & Debate Association are expected to abide by the Code of Honor, adopted on September 23, 2007.[2] The Code of Honor was initially proposed by Harold Keller, a member of the Board of Directors, in recognition of the Honor Society nature of the League. The Code of Honor consists of an oath and five tenets.


The early years[edit]

Headquarters in Ripon, Wisconsin

Bruno E. Jacob, a professor at Ripon College, first envisioned the League after receiving a letter which inquired whether an honor society existed for high school debaters. Noting that no such society existed, Jacob drafted and circulated a proposal for what would become America's oldest and largest high school debate and speech honor society. The League welcomed its first member school on March 28, 1925.

The National Forensic League grew in both membership and organization during the next few years. In 1926, the League chartered one hundred high schools. In 1927, the League began producing The Bulletin, a professional newsletter that served as the forerunner to today’s Rostrum magazine. Chapter manuals, jeweled insignia pins, and other organizational items emerged during this time. One of the most significant changes came in 1930, when Jacob proposed a national speech tournament for League members. The following year, the first National Tournament was held at Ripon College with 49 schools from 17 states competing. Miami, Oklahoma, won the first national championship in high school debate.

In spite of economic turmoil, the League continued to grow during the Great Depression. National Tournament winners appeared on an NBC network program and CBS broadcast the championship debate. In 1938, the first Student Congress was held in conjunction with the National Tournament and Poetry Reading was formalized as a consolation event. To encourage and channel its growth, the Board of Directors voted to increase requirements for membership and degrees while abolishing most of its student fees. This practice was hoped to incentivize excellence while increasing access to League opportunities. With the onset of World War II, the League suspended its National Tournament. However, at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the National Student Congress continued to meet.

Recognizing the need for community service during this time in America's history, the Board of Directors approved an emergency war schedule of service points to be awarded for speeches made to school and community audiences. As World War II neared its end, the concept of service points was written into the League’s constitution to promote service among League members. The National Tournament resumed in 1947.

The mid-20th century[edit]

In the mid-20th century, the League experienced another growth spurt. Jacob resigned his teaching position at Ripon College in order to devote his full attention to the National Forensic League. He traveled approximately 20,000 miles a year, mostly by car, visiting members of the League and offering his support. At the same time, the League was incorporated and engaged its first Assistant Secretary to increase its services to members. These administrative changes were rewarded with increased membership, as the 100,000th League membership was recorded in December 1957.

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of transition for the National Forensic League. After decades of service, Jacob retired as Executive Secretary, and President Karl E. Mundt soon followed. League leadership was restructured as the organization expanded to include 44 districts and the Board of Directors was increased by two members. New awards were also introduced, including recognition for leading schools and the National Forensic League Hall of Fame, which recognized outstanding forensic coaches and educators. Humorous Interpretation and Lincoln-Douglas debate were added as main events at Nationals, expanding the number of opportunities available to students. In 1975, the League celebrated its golden anniversary, which included a move into its own building.

As society began to embrace technology, the League worked to incorporate this new field into its mission and services. In the 1980s, the League began videotaping final rounds as a means of preserving the history of the contest. As the Internet gained popularity in the 1990s, the League developed and refined its web site to extend opportunities for students previously marginalized by geographic or fiscal constraints. In this vein, the League turned its attention toward engaging previously underserved communities. During the 1991-92 school year, Phillips Petroleum made a major gift to the League to promote speech education in rural and urban communities. A few years later, the National Junior Forensic League was established to serve junior high and middle schools. The Barbara Jordan Youth Debates, made possible by the Kaiser Family Foundation, were held for urban debaters. As a result of these and other National Forensic League outreach efforts, the 900,000th member was recorded in the mid-1990s.

The millennium[edit]

At the millennium[when?], new award opportunities, including the Academic All-American Awards and the National Student of the Year award, were established to recognize excellence in scholarship and character. The National Forensic league Code of Honor was adopted in 2007 to promote the holistic development of youth: its tenets include integrity, humility, respect, leadership and service. Since its founding, the League has enrolled over 1.4 million members in all fifty states, U. S. possessions and several foreign countries. Currently over 120,000 high school students and over 6,500 high school teachers are active members.

The National Speech & Debate Association National Tournament continues to be held annually, featuring competition in Policy Debate, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Congressional Debate, Public Forum Debate, United States Extemporaneous Speaking, International Extemporaneous Speaking, Original Oratory, Dramatic Interpretation, Humorous Interpretation, Duo Interpretation, Extemporaneous Commentary, Impromptu Speaking, Prose, Poetry, Expository Speaking and Storytelling. Over $153,000 in college scholarships are awarded at each national tournament, making it possible for students to pursue post-secondary education.

Notable Alumni[edit]

Competition Events[edit]

Each year, the National Speech and Debate Association hosts the National Speech and Debate Tournament. This tournament attracts over 3000 high school students who compete for national honors in a wide variety of events. These events include:

Students who qualify to the National Tournament in a main event yet are eliminated in the preliminary rounds may participate in one of the following Supplemental Events:

In addition to Supplemental Events, these Consolation Events are also held at the National Tournament:

  • Impromptu Speaking (IMP)
  • Storytelling (STO)

The NSDA is offering two pilot events for 2016 District and National Tournament Series:

  • Informative Speaking (INF)
  • Program Oral Interpretation (POI)

In the pilot year 2015-‐16, each member school may enter two students in each of the two events, and they will NOT count toward the school's entry quota. Each district will receive two qualifiers to the 2016 Nationals.

All the above events are League-sponsored events which one can compete in at the National Forensic League National Tournament.


Double-ruby award pin earned with 500 points. The sterling silver pin is 1 inch (2.5 cm) tall.

Association members can earn points at local, state, and nationwide open invitational events. These points serve as a tool to help students and coaches chronicle participation, commemorate achievement, and track progress over time. Points are recorded in three areas: debate, speech, and service. Students of all ability levels can earn points. Points are given for both wins and losses in debate, as well as for each place given in speech rounds. Each point entry must be entered in only one area (i.e. students cannot record a final round with an audience of more than 25 adults under both speech and service).


Points earned in the Debate category can be recorded in one of two ways.

  • Debate
    • Public Forum, Lincoln-Douglas, and Policy Debate are worth 6 points per win and 3 points per loss or non-decision.
    • Non-league debate events (Mock Trial, Parliamentary Debate, Spontaneous Argument) are worth 4 points per win and 2 points per loss or non-decision.
    • The International Public Policy Forum debate essay contest is recorded under Debate.
  • Congress
    • Congressional Debate or other assembly speaking (Model UN, Girls/Boys State) earn 1-6 points per speech or per complete hour of presiding.


Points can be earned in two classifications: for participation in Association main events, and for participation in non-League events (including supplemental and consolation events).

  • Main League events may earn 6 points per 1st rank, 5 points per 2nd rank, 4 points per 3rd rank, 3 points per 4th rank, and 2 points for ranks of 5 and below. Events in this classification include Extemporaneous Speaking, Original Oratory, Humorous/Dramatic Interpretation, and Duo Interpretation.
  • Non-main Association events may earn 5 points per 1st rank, 4 points per 2nd rank, 3 points per 3rd rank, 2 points per 4th rank, and 1 point for ranks of 5 and below.

Association members can earn points for participation in outside contests or tournaments, such as the American Legion Oratorical Contest’s two speaking events and Poetry Out Loud or Slam Poetry.


Association members can also earn points for non-competitive speaking experience. Up to 200 service points may be reported per year. These points can be earned in a variety of ways.

  • Audience speaking engagements (i.e. high school assembly, service or community organizations, place of worship, etc.)
  • Judging novice or middle school rounds at tournaments
  • Coaching middle school practice sessions
  • Theatrical performances/competitions

Enrollment/Honor Society[edit]

Once students earn 25 points, with at least 10 earned in high school interscholastic competition, he/she achieves lifetime National Speech and Debate Association membership status, known as the merit degree (and the coach must pay the one-time $20 enrollment fee). Throughout the rest of the student’s scholastic career with the League, they can earn degrees based on their speech experiences. As Association members reach certain point benchmarks, they earn higher degrees to demonstrate their progress.

Seal Description
Certificate Seal
Gem Description
Silver on White
Blue Sapphire
Metallic Gold on Gold
Silver on Pink
Silver on Blue
Silver on Violet
Silver on Black

Coach Points[edit]

Coaches also receive points. Coaches receive one-tenth the points earned by their students, and earn degrees per the schedule above. After a minimum of five years as an Association member, a coach who attains 1500 points is awarded a diamond; he or she receives a second diamond for 3000 points, a third for 6000 points, and so on. Five years must pass between each diamond award.


Rostrum is the official quarterly (previously monthly) magazine of the National Speech and Debate Association. The magazine was originally titled the Bulletin and was first published in 1926. Since its creation, Rostrum has evolved into a forum for debate education and news, soliciting articles from coaches and debaters. Rostrum is a popular place for debate camps and brief companies to place their advertisements supporting the magazine. Rostrum is free to all National Speech and Debate Association members, and also contains information on results from the national tournament, opinion pieces on the evolving debate world, and strategy tips for debaters.

Other League Publications include an NJFL newsletter, which is distributed to members of the National Junior Forensic League, and the Alumni Connection magazine.

State leagues[edit]

While the National Speech and Debate Tournament and the qualifying District Competitions are hosted by the National Speech and Debate Association, most forensics tournaments during the school year operate under the auspices of other organizations. Chief among them are the state speech leagues, such as:

In other states, speech is classed with other high school interscholastic competition and is overseen by the same organization as football, basketball and gymnastics such as:

State leagues operate independently. Some leagues sponsor events not offered by the League. These events may still qualify for points, however.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

  • Official Website of the National Speech & Debate Association
  • [22] Rostrum, the official publication of the National Speech & Debate Association.
  • Rankings within the National Speech & Debate Association.
  • A list of staff, board members, and district leaders.