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PfISD student wins national title

Watch Rene speak at the 2019 National Speech & Debate Association National Tournament (at the 4:07:25 mark):


July 2, 2019 

Rene Otero A Pflugerville ISD speech and debate student has won a national championship, achieving firsts along the way.

On June 21, Hendrickson High School’s Rene Otero became the first PfISD student to win a national competition as he took a title at the 2019 National Speech & Debate Association National Tournament in Dallas. Otero competed in the international extemporaneous speaking category and finished first out of 242 students.

“Obviously, he’s really intelligent and he works extremely hard, but Rene makes you want to listen to him,” said HHS Speech and Debate Director Kirsten Nash. “You want him to be successful and you want to learn from him.”

In addition to being Pflugerville ISD’s first national champion, Otero is the first African American to win an NSDA Nationals title in extemp, an accomplishment that did not go unnoticed.

“For me, the best part of winning is what it means for those kids who come after me,” Otero said. “If you see someone like you, then you feel like it is possible. I never felt limited by my identity when I was on the team at HHS, and now other kids can see this achievement and know that if they don’t limit themselves, then great success can happen.” 

Otero also received the President’s Bowl for his overall performance at NSDA nationals and was a finalist for the organization’s Student of the Year Award.

“He is the most charismatic kid I’ve seen. We can be on a shuttle to the hotel or in a restaurant waiting for a table, and he naturally starts up the conversation. People want to engage and talk with him,” Nash said. 

In extemporaneous speaking, students draw a topic and are given 30 minutes to research and prepare a speech 6-7 minutes in length.

At the national tournament, the topics are predetermined, to give students time to research and prepare for all the topics should they advance through each round of competition.

After six preliminary rounds at nationals, the field is cut from 242 students down to 60. Then, two more rounds are held to narrow the field to 30 for the quarterfinals. Only 14 students advance to semifinals and six are taken to the final round.

During NSDA National finals on June 21, Otero spoke in response to the question, “Should political leaders focus first on political empowerment or economic equality?”

Pflugerville was well-represented at the NSDA National Tournament, with Pflugerville High School sophomore Joseph Garza finishing 16th out of 500 contestants in Congressional House Debate.

Hendrickson seniors Trey Gutierrez and Dylan Scott advanced to quarterfinals of NSDA National Tournament Policy Debate, placing them in the top 30 teams in the country.

Also at the NSDA event, Hendrickson World Schools Debate Team of Alejandro Castaneda, Eliana Galan, Sanjitha Yedavalli, Claire Martinez and Isabelle Cano placed in the top 60 teams from across the world. Hendrickson was also represented by Sydney Stogel in oratory.

This was Hendrickson’s 10th appearance at the NSDA National Tournament. 

Otero qualified automatically for nationals after his eighth-place finish a year ago as a junior, but he still elected to join his teammates at UIL District Championships and Regionals to help the Hawks compete and qualify as a team.

He is no stranger to the national stage or succeeding there. As a sophomore, he finished 14th at nationals in extemp and began his climb to the top. He finished eighth last year before taking the crown this year.

NSDA has more than 140,000 student-members compete across the nation, and approximately 3,000 qualify for the national tournament each year.

Otero is set to attend The University of Texas at Austin this fall. He will compete for the UT Speech & Debate team.