LITHIA — Victoria Royal is about as accomplished as a high school student can be. She gets good grades, takes college classes, plays seven instruments and will attend the University of South Florida in August as a premed major.
But Royal didn't think she needed a public speaking class to round out her senior year at Newsome High School.
Her dad did.
So, Royal reluctantly agreed to the class. After surviving first-day jitters, Royal came to really enjoy the class. She liked talking out loud and sharing her thoughts with others. She liked public speaking so much she joined the school's debate team in December.
Royal came in second place in her first competition, and has snagged some first-place honors in other debate contests since then.
A few weeks ago, she claimed a big victory.
Royal, 18, earned the first-place trophy in the Lincoln-Douglas debate during the Florida State Championship Tournament of the National Forensic League Speech & Debate Honor Society at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa.
The win advances Royal to the national tournament in Birmingham, Ala., on June 16. In addition to trophies, contestants will have a shot at more than $250,000 in college scholarships.
Royal laughs now when she thinks back to August, when her dad made her sign up for Speech 1.
"I was really, really annoyed at him," she said. "I thought it would be boring."
Royal is glad her dad suggested the class, especially the Lincoln-Douglas style, and wants to join the USF debate team.
"I'm drawn to it because it's one on one," she said. "I like how you can kind of beat up your partner and it's okay."
Vicki Pape, director of communications for the National Forensic League Speech & Debate Honor Society, said the debate competition is one of the most prestigious in the country.
The June 16-21 competition involves about 3,200 students who will engage in verbal duels in 11 events, including Lincoln-Douglas style. At this level, judges expect to be wowed.
"The best of the best are able to adapt," Pape said.
Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas had a series of debates in 1858 as they battled for a Senate seat in Illinois. The men argued about many of the critical issues of the time, focusing heavily on slavery.
Pape said Royal and her adversaries will deal with more current issues. But, they will debate in a moral or ethical slant.
Joel Royal said he wanted his daughter to take the speech class because he knew she would enjoy it. He was also certain she would soon be drawn to the debate team.
"I knew speech was a doorway into debate," he said, laughing.
Joel Royal said he also knew she would succeed, saying his daughter is both well read and articulate. He said the art of debate is a skill that will help Victoria no matter the path she chooses in life. She will always know how to defend her position.
Victoria Royal is happy she listened to her dad. She is also thankful to her debate coach and speech teacher, Robin Emery. She said Emery recognized her potential and guided her along the way.
"She said from day one she had me pegged," Royal said, laughing. "She is such a wonderful person."
Monica Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.