Plano West Junior Already a Speech and Debate National Champ


Hadia Khatri, Writer

Atharv Kulkarni, junior, won first place in Congressional Debate at the online 2021 National Speech and Debate Tournament on June 19th as a sophomore. Now, he continues speech and debate here at Plano West, with Mr. Robey Holland as the school’s debate coach.

In tournaments he competes mainly in Congress, where tournaments replicate being in an actual Congress session, and participants stand in affirmation or negation of a certain piece of legislation. “Congress is definitely my favorite category,” Kulkarni said. “It’s just fun. Like so stylistically based and I can just be myself and I don’t have to worry about fitting into any debate norm. I can just do what I want.” 

Kulkarni says the biggest motivation in his journey competing in debate is the student community. “There’s a lot of internal motivation from your teammates,” he said. “We have a big debate team, so there’s a lot of Congress students just pushing each other to do better.” 

He believes that the most important factor in winning nationals was continuous practice over years of competition. “It’s a lot of practice, school practice, outside of school practice, just a lot of work,” Kulkarni said. “This year would be my fourth year competing. I started second semester of seventh grade.” 

He strongly encourages students to participate in speech and debate. “The first tournament is always going to be rough, but you’ll just watch other people and learn,” he said. “You’ll get the hang of it and it’s definitely an opportunity and a skill that you want to develop.” 

Plano has an extremely strong and large debate program, across schools and grade levels. Specifically, Jasper and Plano West dominate speech and debate tournaments in the region, eventually going to state and nationals nearly every year. Each school has a team of over one hundred students competing.

Kulkarni’s experience in speech and debate has greatly influenced what he is looking into as a future career. “I’m looking into pre-law, policy, economics, or even private-sector economics,” he said. “And that’s just from speech and debate research, competing with other people and discussing these topics has really spiked my interest in them.” 

He’s looking into universities such as Northwestern, University of Chicago and UPenn as possible routes to these fields of interest.