Members of the Jemez Mountain Home School Speech and Debate Team with their younger siblings celebrate news of their victory to continue their participation in speech and debate competitions and activities in New Mexico. Courtesy photo
SANTA FE — Jemez Mountain Home School speech and debate students are back on track this week preparing for the final tournaments of the regular season. On Wednesday, the Team received news that New Mexico Secretary of Education, Hanna Skandera, issued a decision on its appeal. The Secretary’s order overturned the decision of the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) Board of Directors and ruled in favor of the Team’s continued participation in speech and debate competitions and activities in New Mexico.
“Our students and their parents are overjoyed! We have been anxiously awaiting the Secretary’s ruling. We are looking forward to continuing to compete as our team has done for the past 17 years, and we will continue to assist the NMAA in ensuring that all New Mexico students, including homeschooled students and teams, have equal opportunity,” Coach Carolyn Connor said.
As a result of the decision, the Jemez Mountain team was in Farmington this weekend at the final invitational tournament of the season where they competed with students from Los Alamos High School, Los Alamos Middle School, Mayfield, Farmington, Durango, Navajo Prep, Santa Fe Prep, and the Albuquerque School of Excellence. All of the students were getting in final competition rounds in preparation for the State Tournament Feb. 25-27 at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces.
“Seeing the support from our competitors this weekend is amazing. Everyone is happy to have us back, but no one is as happy as we are to finally return to competition with our friends and in a local setting,” said Senior Michael Booton, who placed first this weekend in Original Oratory. In addition, Booton took home a first place finish in Duo Interpretation with his duo partner, Annika Davenport and placed 3rd in Lincoln Douglas Debate.
“I am ecstatic about this decision and I am so excited to be back competing,” said his brother, Sophomore Caleb Booton, who last competed in October and was very pleased with his 4th place finish in Humorous Interpretation in Farmington.
“While other states are beautiful and everyone was so welcoming, New Mexico will always be home and is where I want to compete,” said Davenport, who took home the top award this past weekend in Humorous Interpretation.
In addition to preparing for competition at the State Tournament, another focus for Jemez Mountain and all of the other New Mexico teams will be recruiting volunteer judges.
“Community judges are an integral part of this activity, without them speech and debate events cannot happen. We hope that members of communities from across New Mexico will come out to support these students by serving as judges and see the amazing things these students are doing,” Coach Connor said.
In July, the NMAA administration informed the Jemez Mountain team after 17 years of full participation that they would no longer be allowed to participate in speech and debate activities in New Mexico. The Team appealed to the NMAA Board of Directors, which upheld the administration’s decision in September. The Team then filed an appeal with the New Mexico Public Education Department, per the published appeal procedure.
In the interim, the Team has been traveling as they could to out-of-state speech and debate tournaments in Arizona, Colorado and Texas with a subset of students who were able and could afford to travel, but with every desire to permanently return to competition in their home state. The Secretary’s Decision recognizes the Jemez Mountain Home School Team as “a speech and debate team for home-schooled students in New Mexico” and fully restores its eligibility to participate in NMAA sanctioned activities.
The Jemez Mountain Home School Speech and Debate Team is comprised of New Mexico home school students who wish to pursue public speaking, discourse, and debate as a curricular activity as part of their core educational program, as well as home school students who wish to participate in speech and debate as an extracurricular activity. Established almost 20 years ago, the team was one of the first home school speech and debate teams to be established in the nation, and it is currently the most successful and longest continuously existing home school team member of the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA). The Jemez Mountain team established the first competitive team at the middle school level in New Mexico. The team boasts several NSDA National All-American (list of the top 150 students nationally) and Academic All-American alumni and has qualified 17 students to the NSDA National Tournament in a broad range of events including Congressional Debate, Lincoln Douglas Debate, Public Forum Debate, Original Oratory, Extemporaneous Speaking (both Domestic and International), Humorous Interpretation, and Dramatic Interpretation.