Killington student Toby Borzekowski prepares for nationals
By Katy Savage
For 30 years, Woodstock Union High School teacher Gordon Ladd has led the school’s speech and debate team from championship to championship.
The team has won the state championship eight times in his 30-year career and has been runner up 10 times.
This year, the team’s speech and debate team has been named a charter member of the National Speech & Debate Association—the highest honor a school can achieve.
“I was excited for the kids,” said Ladd. “What it comes down to it, it’s a reward for their effort.”
Charter schools reflect a commitment to building confidence, improving communication and increasing critical thinking skills.
“Participation in speech and debate changes lives,” said National Speech & Debate Association Executive Director J. Scott Wunn, in a news release. “We are extremely proud of our charter schools, coaches, and students for their hard work and dedication to this transformative activity.”
Ladd, who teaches U.S. history at WUHS, attributes the team’s success to the students.
Ladd and student Toby Borzekowski, 17, of Killington, are planning to fly to Dallas in June to compete in the national speech and debate tournament.
Borzekowski will compete against 4,500 students from 1,200 different schools across the country in the “largest academic competition in the world,” according to the National Speech and Debate Association’s website.
Borzekowski said he became interested in speaking through theater as a child. He participated in his first speech competition in 10th grade and became hooked.
“My interest in forensics comes from my love of argument and my passion for public speaking,” he said.
Borzekowksi will compete in the Congress category in the national tournament where he’ll debate political bills in a mock congress.
This is the seventh year one of Ladd’s students has made it to nationals.
“We have a lot of dedicated, hard-working kids,” Ladd said. “It’s a special characteristic for a kid. With this type of speaking event – there’s not a lot of glory outside your individual success.”
He said this year’s team is particularly good. Woodstock hosted 80 students in a district national qualifier tournament in April where “for the first time, every single one of my kids made the final qualifying round,” Ladd said.
Qualifications for nationals differ by category and region. Students are generally judged by how persuasive they are, how well they’ve laid out their argument and how well they have memorized their speeches.
Aside from teaching, Ladd drives students to competitions throughout the state. He got his bus driver’s license because he was sick of getting carsick, he said.
Ladd and the students have found ways to make the long bus rides to competitions fun.
“The kids sing on the bus and have a grand ol’ time,” Ladd said.
Borzekowski plans to attend Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota next year to study political science and economics.
“He really puts in a lot of the work,” Borzekowski said of Ladd. “I have great hopes that the team will continue to perform at this caliber well into the future.”