National Speech and Debate Association

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National Speech & Debate Association
Nonprofit organization
HeadquartersWest Des Moines, IA
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 an interscholastic speech and debate organization serving the 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].

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

The National Speech and Debate Association Board of Directors meets semi-annually for rules revision.

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 Adam 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 that 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 100 high schools. In 1927, it began publishing The Bulletin, a 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. A school from Miami, Oklahoma, won the first national championship in high school debate.

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. It was hoped that this practice would promote 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 the national competition, 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 website 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 50 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.

Competition events[edit]

The National Speech and Debate Association national tournament is held annually. The tournament attracts over 3000 high school students who compete for national honors in events that include:

  • Policy debate (2 vs 2 debate on a yearlong topic regarding a US policy)
  • Lincoln–Douglas debate format (1 vs 1 value debate on a bimonthly topic)
  • Big Questions Debate (1 vs 1 value debate on a yearlong topic)
  • Congressional Debate (Legislative debate imitating the US House of Representatives or Senate)
  • Public Forum Debate (2 vs 2 fact debate upon monthly topic)
  • World Schools Debate (3 vs 3 value debate with monthly topic)
  • Biblical Debate (Alabama only)
  • United States Extemporaneous Speaking (7 minute informative speech regarding US domestic issues)
  • International Extemporaneous Speaking (7 minute speech regarding global issues)
  • Original Oratory (10 minute speech on any topic, though usually includes observations of societal problems)
  • Dramatic Interpretation (10 minute performance of a dramatic dramatic piece, typically with a deeper human message)
  • Humorous Interpretation (10 minute performance of a comedic piece)
  • Duo Interpretation (2 person, 10-minute performance of a comedic or non-comedic piece, typically with a deeper human message)
  • Extemporaneous Commentary
  • Impromptu Speaking (7 Minutes to prepare and give a speech. Usually 2 minutes prep with 5 minute speech)
  • Radio Speaking (5-minute speech read off of a script, emulating a radio broadcast)
  • Prose (Original piece written by student, telling a story or narrative through creative writing)
  • Poetry (Original piece written by student, telling a story or narrative through poetry and music)
  • Expository Speaking (5-10 minute speech on socially relevant topic)
  • Informative Speaking (10 minute speech on topic to inform audience of subject matter with the use of props)
  • Program of Oral Interpretation (10 minute speech on theme present in a selection of multiple pieces of interpretation. Also called Thematic Interpretation)
  • Storytelling (10 minute speech with script or book, can be sitting or standing, comedic or dramatic)

Over $153,000 in college scholarships are awarded at each national tournament. Students who qualify for the National Tournament in the main event yet are eliminated in the preliminary rounds or the first two elimination rounds, may participate in a supplemental event, such as Prose, Poetry Interpretation, Extemporaneous Commentary, Expository Speaking, and Extemporaneous Debate. In addition to the supplemental events, consolation events are also held, which include Impromptu Speaking and Storytelling.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Forensic League Announces Plans to Change Name to National Speech and Debate Association, effective Fall 2014". 23 May 2013. Archived from the original on 20 October 2014. Retrieved 1 Dec 2014.
  2. ^ Our Code of Honor: Speech, Debate: National Forensic League.

External links[edit]