Chelmsford High School Speech and Debate Team

CHS Speech & Debate Team Readies for MSDL State Finals Saturday-Sunday

Sophomores Arjun Lingala, Prateek Motagi qualify for renowned UK Tournament of Champions, NCFL Grand National

CHELMSFORD, MA (Apr. 7, 2021) – While the Covid-19 pandemic has curtailed the schedules for athletic teams and the activities for many of the clubs at Chelmsford Public Schools, the Chelmsford High School Speech and Debate Team has been able to thrive.

Because debates have efficiently adapted to an online environment, the six CHS Speech and Debate Team members have been able to compete in twice as many tournaments than a normal season: The Duke University Internationals, the Bellaire Forensic Tournament in Texas and the Dowling Catholic Paradigm in Iowa, among them.

“I do hate to say that Covid-19 was beneficial for anything, but having online debate was really beneficial to me and Prateek,” said sophomore Arjun Lingala, referencing his teammate Prateek Motagi, who form one of three CHS speech and debate teams competing in the Massachusetts Speech and Debate League (MSDL) finals, held online, this Saturday and Sunday.

When asked how many tournaments he and Mr. Lingala have entered this year, Mr. Motagi needs a minute to think. “10?” he wonders. “Maybe 12.”

Whatever the number, the Chelmsford Six are well-versed and enter the MSDL final with lofty expectations. Joining Mr. Lingala and Mr. Motagi at the MSDL final will be sophomores Avaneesh Mallela and Rishi Ajmera and the team of junior Vishant Raajkumar and sophomore Divya Sambasivan.

“Prateek and Arjun should do well,” said Peter Zopes, who teaches History, Social Sciences and Speech and Debate at CHS, and is in his 12th season as coach of the Speech and Debate Team. He has helped this year’s team compete across 23 online speech and debate tournaments since September.

“I would love to see Prateek and Arjun break into final rounds and see how it goes from there,” he added.

Honors have been plentiful for Mr. Lingala and Mr. Motagi. The two advanced to the double octofinals (top 32) at the Bellaire Forensic Tournament and achieved a quarterfinal finish at the Tim Averill Invitational (hosted by CHS), earning them a Silver Bid to the University of Kentucky Tournament of Champions.

Mr. Motagi’s and Mr. Lingala’s best result came at the Dowling Catholic Paradigm, where they placed sixth and ninth individually among 166 debaters and improved their bid to the more competitive Gold category for the UK Tournament of Champions.

Mr. Ajmera and Mr. Mallela have also enjoyed a stellar season, along with Ms. Sambasivan and Mr. Raajkumar, each reaching the triple octofinals at the Duke University Internationals last fall. Mr. Ajmera and Mr. Mallela achieved the same result at the Harvard National Forensics Tournament in February, and also placed at the Lexington High School Winter Invitational in January.

While most debaters will end the season at the MSDL tournament, Mr. Lingala and Mr. Motagi have several more weeks to go. Though only sophomores, the duo is ranked No. 10 in the state and will enter the UK Tournament of Champions Apr. 17-19; and the National Catholic Forensics League (NCFL) Grand National May 28-30.

Despite the quick turnaround for next week’s Tournament of Champions, the current focus is on the MSDL Championship. “We hope to win the entire tournament,” said Mr. Motagi.

In the 2020 state tournament, Mr. Lingala and Mr. Motagi won their first three rounds before losing their next two and bowing out. “We got off to a good start and it was going really well,” Mr. Motagi said. “But because we were new debaters, we didn’t know how to shift our style towards (the judges), so we lost the last two rounds. But this year with all the tournaments, we’ve done a lot of preparing, we’ve watched a lot of videos and seen how the best debaters do it. It’s really helped our progression.”

The format for the MSDL Tournament (as well as the Tournament of Champions) will be Public Forum, in which Mr. Lingala and Mr. Motagi specialize. Public Forum debates involve two teams arguing pro (true) and con (false) with one opportunity for defense and rebuttal. The outcome is decided by one judge.

The topic for this weekend’s competition is titled Resolved: On balance, the benefits of creating the United States Space Force outweigh the harms.

“Public Forum is the main event we do,” said Mr. Lingala. “I think we’ve put in a lot of work. We’re just sophomores, so we still have a ways to go. I think being ranked 10th is a pretty good achievement for us. I think Massachusetts is one of the best states in terms of debates.”

Following the UK Tournament of Champions, Mr. Lingala and Mr. Motagi will have about six weeks to prepare for the NCFL Grand National, which they will put to good use. The Grand National contestants will compete in Policy Debate, a completely different format than Public Forum, in which the affirmative side makes a policy change claim supported by the claim of harm, proof of harm and a plan that solves the harm. In turn, the negative side attacks all three claims and presents a counterplan.

The topic for the Grand National is Criminal Justice Reform in the U.S.

About Chelmsford Public Schools

The Chelmsford Public School District provides all students with multiple pathways to optimize their own potential for academic excellence, leadership, and social and emotional wellness. The mission of the Chelmsford Public Schools is to educate, engage, prepare, and empower well-rounded and knowledgeable learners to PERSEVERE through challenges, demonstrate RESPECT and INTEGRITY in their words and actions, are DEDICATED to their community, and display EMPATHY as global citizens while discovering and pursuing their full potential.  This PRIDE-driven culture enables all members of the school community to support the growth and development of students.  For more information, please visit