The Ricardo Velásquez Speech & Debate Academy was founded in the Summer of 2013 at the home of founding parent Tracy Tanidjaja. Though the team was initially comprised of brilliant Pomona 7th Graders handpicked by Mrs. Tanidjaja, Prof. Velásquez’ long-term hope was always to create a crucial on-ramp of access for the receding world of public school speech & debate, especially at the beleaguered L.A. Unified School District, the second largest in the nation (where only 14 high schools, 4 middle schools and ZERO elementary schools were competing in speech events, despite numbering over 800 total schools). Thus began an effort to intrigue public school parents and administrators through the gaudy victories accumulated by the all-star team from far-flung corners of Northern Los Angeles Co: Claremont, La Verne, Stevenson Ranch, Porter Ranch, Tarzana.
The instant achievements of the seven core competitors were head-turning even for a long-standing middle school program, let alone a small, rookie team. They consistently defeated novice and sometimes Varsity competitors from some of the best high schools in the state, reaching and often winning elimination rounds at renown high school invitationals such as Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton, Claremont High, Cypress College, Monroe High, Cal Lutheran and UC Berkeley. From 2013 to 2015, they were Middle School State Champions in Impromptu, Congressional Debate and Declamation; 2nd in Dramatic Interpretation (twice), Original Oratory and Poetry; 3rd in Duo Interpretation; 4th in Extemporaneous. Rachel Kho won 2nd overall at Monroe and 1st in MS at the Orator’s Cup.
At the 2014 National Championship, every VA contestant (competing in varied events such as Congress, Duo, Declamation or Original Oratory) reached the Quarter or Semi-Finals in at least one event, but they fared FAR better at the 2015 Championship: everyone again made at least Quarter-Finals, but five of six reached Semi-Finals and fell just two ranks short of placing all five graduating 8th Graders into the National Finals of an event. They wound up taking 9th Place in Original Oratory, 8th in Duo Interpretation, 7th in Declamation, 4th in Prose Interpretation and 1st Place (National Champion) in Congressional Debate! During 2015, VA also set a record of placing 7 speakers in the National Top 20 ranking of the National Speech & Debate Association’s speaker points.
The creation of a “Velásquez Academy public school onramp” began with the Nationals-level preparation of beginning speakers at El Camino Real Charter HS from 2012-2014 (though they competed strictly as ECR, not VA), which wound up precipitating the six most prolific speaking careers in the history of that highly distinguished school (the 2014 and seven-time Academic Decathlon National Champion). Despite the enormous disadvantage of starting two to three years behind its top competitors in the Western L.A. Co. District, ECR pulled off the unprecedented feat of qualifying thee novice speakers in a row to the National Championship Tournament (the 2015 qualifier peer-coached by the students trained by Prof. Velásquez the year prior) in Congressional Debate. To highlight just the tip of the iceberg, rookie Feras Morad took 16th in the U.S. in Impromptu Speaking in 2013, Marlon Poroj became the first Latino to win the TCFL (Tri-County Forensic League) State Qualifier in Congressional Debate in 2014 (and reached the National Finals in Congressional Senate in 2015), Shawn Haq became ECR’s first two-time Nationalist in 2015 and Hilda Velásquez-Galvez will enter Fall 2015 as just the 6th in W. L.A. history to surpass 2,000 speaker points, and the first Latina to do do.
The goal of bringing speech and debate to underserved schools accelerated dramatically with the promotion to Principal of Richard Ramos, who authorized the creation of the LAUSD’s first speech curriculum at an elementary school at Haddon Avenue in Pacoima/Arleta. Starting in Spring 2015, his Haddon Avenue 5th Graders began winning trophies against students of private schools and elite enrichment academies. Among their highlights were 2nd Places in SpAr & Poetry and 3rd Places in Dramatic Interpretation and Humorous Interpretation. Special note: gifted 5th graders Justin Werner & Alex Ramos placed 7th & 8th in Congressional Debate at the MIDDLE SCHOOL State Championship! Plans are underway to continue at Haddon and start at nearby Roscoe Elementary.
In the Fall of 2015, both Haddon Ave ES and Roscoe ES (Sun Valley) came on board and experienced historic, unprecedented success:
Here are some articles about the general benefits of speech & debate to students, schools and society:
In addition to the training of private and public school children, VA also contributes two innovative tournaments to the Southern California speech circuit: The Principios Invitational in the Fall and The Orator’s Cup in the Spring. We pride ourselves in offering enjoyable, transparent and on-time contests which boast high quality judging, high calibre competition and some of the best trophies in the world of speech! However, these tournaments can also be said to be historic and groundbreaking, featuring some of the following, unique wrinkles:
We offer Divisions in Elementary through High School, allowing the unprecedented opportunity for the high school speaking stars of tomorrow to rub elbows with the high school speaking stars of today. In addition, we put multiple judges in prelims as often as possible, use tabbing software to enable online posting of all prelim rounds days before the contest (to avoid the mobbing of posting areas common elsewhere) as well as the online posting of results just hours after the contest. Finally, proceeds from our contests do a social good by going to support speech teams at traditionally underserved schools/communities.
Here are some links to the results for our last few tournaments: