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Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

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Marcus High School's Online Newspaper

The Marquee

Fighting for words

Virtually trained debater advances to Harvard competition

Her entire childhood, junior Maanu Obalapuram grew up hearing her older sister and cousin raving about their debate tournaments. She always wished it would one day be her.
Her sister, Uma Obalapuram, was a co-president of debate and competed with her team at a tournament hosted by Harvard.

“I’ve always been interested in public speaking, but specifically debate,” Maanu said. “A lot can be learned from it, even if you don’t ever win.”
Maanu patiently waited for the day she could experience the thrills her family described at competitions, the knowledge they possessed, and the friendships they made.

Junior Maanu Obalapuram rose to president of the Marcus Debate Club after unconventional virtual training. (Submitted by Maanu Obalapuram)

However, Maanu’s hopes to start debate were altered due to the pandemic.

Her eighth grade year was cut short, and her first year of high school did not look like she had envisioned. Being a virtual student, Maanu was at a disadvantage. Getting help in regular academics proved difficult, and receiving assistance in debate proved even harder.

Maanu made a great effort to keep in touch with debate teacher Candace Hightower, but only so much can be done over the phone and emails.

“We were all learning with the kids,” Hightower said. “It was a whole new thing for everyone.”
But instead of giving up, she worked to keep up with her debate goals.

“I very quickly realized that I was pretty much on my own,” Maanu said. “I started to teach myself.”

Maanu believes one of the most important aspects of debate is the community, but it was hard to find because she was one of the only novices. She was excited to talk with her opponents and learn from them, and this wasn’t even possible.

“People don’t have a lot of interest with the virtual tournaments,” Hightower said. “They weren’t as engaging.”

Participation being low made a difficult time even harder.

“At first, debate seemed like a very lonely thing,” Maanu said. “I couldn’t come to school and interact [with people].”

She stayed in contact with Hightower and trained herself so she could be ready for competitions and stay on track with her dream.

While debate felt like a struggle sometimes, Maanu’s passion kept her going. She tried to find motivation wherever she could, whether it was a financial incentive or pure drive.

“When I signed up for a tournament, I couldn’t very well pay $100 and back out, so then I had to put in the work,” Maanu said. “It sort of forced me to work.”

Once she started her first competition, it all seemed right to her. She knew debate was where she belonged.

“When I went to the tournament, I felt good,” Maanu said. “I felt like I was doing something that I wanted to do for myself.”

• • •

Since the switch back to in-person school, Maanu has more opportunities to improve. Her sophomore year, she could meet up with Hightower more often and learn from Joey Rogers, who was the debate team president last year.

Jyothi Charyulu, her mother, is especially enthusiastic about how far she has come in less than ideal circumstances.

“She’s always learned from the community around her when she goes to debate tournaments,” Charyulu said. “She’s inspired others along the way.”

Charyulu says that Maanu has grown not only as a debater, but as a person as well. Maanu used to feel lost, being thrust into competitions with people nationwide, instead of just the Texas circuit.

However, the debate community she found helped her succeed in national tournaments.

Charyulu has seen Maanu empathize with new debaters and look out for their success by minimizing that unprepared feeling she first felt.

“Debate is not for the faint hearted,” Charyulu said. “She has grown to this person who says, ‘I don’t want any freshmen to have the same feeling that I had.’”

Taking after her sister like she always wanted, Maanu was able to attend the virtual debate competition hosted by Harvard University in February 2022 as a sophomore.

This competition lasted until late at night. Maanu went through seven preliminary rounds and won six. She placed among the top 32 competitors in a tournament of about 250 experienced debaters.

I felt like I was doing something that I wanted to do for myself.

— Maanu Obalapuram

Maanu and her family were ecstatic when they found out how well she did.

“We had a total celebration,” Maanu said. “I was screaming.”

While she hoped to make it even further in the competition, she still felt very grateful for the chance to attend.

“In hindsight, I think it was a really, really great experience,” Maanu said.

Her mother was incredibly proud of how well Maanu did at such a prestigious competition and hopes it will inspire others.

“It’s a pride for Marcus at the national level,” Charyulu said. “I really hope and pray that a lot more kids participate in debate.”

• • •

As a junior this year, Maanu is the president of the Marcus Debate Club on the varsity level. She is responsible for educating the lower level students and keeping up with other clubs in the district.

Understanding the difficulty that comes with debate, especially without adequate help, Maanu wants to make Marcus Debate better than she found it. She hopes to make the club more knowledgeable and inclusive using what she has learned during the last two years.

“She’s definitely improved,” High-tower said. “She’s able to get one on one help.”

Using the help that is now available to her, Maanu plans to expand the team.

“I’m hoping to get more people interested, especially in the novice division,” Maanu said. “Last year, we didn’t have any novices, and a lot of people didn’t really get a strong foundation in the basics.”

On Saturday, September 24, Maanu won a first place award for varsity
Lincoln-Douglas debate-Newman Smith High School. (Submitted by Maanu Obalapuram)

The current debate team was built by Maanu, and she has even taken initiatives, like summer workshops, to get middle school students interested. She wants to inspire the same thrill in others that she finally got to experience in tournaments and build a new community at Marcus like the one she has found elsewhere.

Maanu says she is looking forward to competing on the official national circuit this year, called the Tournament of Champions. It includes 100 specific tournaments that come with prestigious opportunities that Maanu feels excited about.

Maanu’s friend, junior Molly Kemery, said that she inspires people with debate, but more importantly, with friendship as well.

“She pushes me really hard, and she supports me a lot in everything I do,” Molly said. “I’ve learned a ton of things from her.”

Maanu said she is more confident and knowledgeable due to debate, and wants this for others.

“I’m still at the beginning of my career,” Maanu said. “But I am very passionate about debate, and that’ll never change.”

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Raksha Jayakumar
Raksha Jayakumar, Managing Editor
Raksha (she/her) is excited for her second year on staff as Managing Editor! She is a huge swiftie, meaning she has good taste (reputation is top-tier). She loves everybody on staff and is super duper excited to work with them all. <3 

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