Threat of riots cancels debate tournament


Jenna Liu

The speech and debate team had prepared for weeks to attend the 2014 joint Ladue Novice Invitational and Clayton Fall Classic tournaments, but found out yesterday at noon that plans had changed significantly.
Holly Maness received a phone call on November 20, a day before the tournament, informing her that tournament organizers had decided to cancel the Clayton Invitational.
“I had been receiving some emails letting us know about the situation since we first signed up for the tournament,” Maness said. “Yesterday, the coach at the school phoned all of the coaches to say that it would be cancelled.”
Clayton debate coach Justin Seiwell said that he ultimately  pulled the plug on the tournament because numerous schools had either already withdrawn from the tournament or had expressed the possibility that they would.
“I looked at the declining numbers of schools that were coming to our tournament and we were at a point where the tournament would no longer work as a fundraiser, and in a typical year I would say that’s fine,” Seiwell said. “But I also looked at if we were going to have a good experience with he tournament, and it was one of those where we were going to have a much smaller tournament than we normally host.”
Seiwell said the schools were concerned about potential ramifications from the upcoming grand jury decision concerning the fate of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.
On August 9 Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, sparking anger throughout the nation. Protests in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri turned violent soon after the shooting, igniting criticism of both protesters and the law enforcement response.
The grand jury charged with deciding if Wilson should be indicted is deliberating in Clayton, and is anticipated to release its decision within the next few days out of the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office, which is only a 6 minute drive from Clayton High School.
Seiwell said he understands why schools pulled out from the tournament, but  personally does not have any major concerns.
“If I were an administrator in another school district and I was saying ‘Clayton, Missouri is where the governor declared a state of emergency and now you want me to send a group of students when the high school is literally three blocks away from where the  protests are happening…,'” Seiwell said. “I don’t blame them at all for making a call for safety above anything else, but I personally don’t think anything bad is going to happen .”
While the joint Ladue Novice Invitational, which is for first-year debaters only, is still occurring, RBHS will not be sending any novice debaters to the St. Louis area.
“A decision was made between CPS attending schools and administrators to not attend the solely novice portion of the tournament,” Maness said.
As a result, some novice debate team members, such as freshman Ilinca Popescu, are disappointed about not being able to participate in what was supposed to be their first ever tournament.
“I’m kind of upset because I wanted the experience of Clayton/Ladue as a freshman,” Popescue said. “I worked really hard on this; I spent so much energy on it and it’s really indescribable how all this for a really great tournament has gone to waste.”
Team captain and junior Matthew Vincent said that while he understands the team’s frustration, there are still more tournaments to look ahead to.
“This is like last year when we had some trouble with debt and snow storms cancelling tournaments but we still made it through,” Vincent said. “We can do this and become a better team because of it.”
The $30 fee for the Clayton/Ladue tournament can be used as credit for another tournament this year.
By Jenna Liu