Hilo high debate team represents Hawaiʻi Island at top state tournament

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Four students from Hilo High School represented Hawai’i Island at the 2024 Hawaii State Debate Tournament on Oʻahu this month.

Debate students Keoni Roosevelt-Randolph, Coach Amy Baum, Isis Alvarez-Murillo, Senaka Reddy, and Mayo Nakajima, are pictured with their Debate Coach Elizabeth Laliberte. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Laliberte)

The tournament, which was hosted by Kamehameha Schools- Kapalama on April 6th and 7th, was open to high school students who qualified by winning a series of debate rounds at a local district tournament. The Vikings were the only public school representing a neighbor island.

“It was definitely intimidating at first, but upon debating a couple of rounds, I just gained more and more confidence,” says freshman Mayo Nakajima.

Nakajima and her partner, freshman Senaka Reddy, participated in Public Forum Debate, a two-on-two style that emphasizes critical thinking and public speaking skills.


Senior Isis Alvarez-Murillo and sophomore Keoni Roosevelt-Randolph also participated in the tournament, along with their coaches, Hilo High teachers Elizabeth Laliberte and Amy Baum, who served as judges.

Debate students Keoni Roosevelt-Randolph, Senaka Reddy, Isis Alvarez-Murillo, Coach Amy Baum, Mayo Nakajima, and Coach Elizabeth Laliberte in an undated photo. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Laliberte)

Laliberte founded the team with help from her husband Greg in 2017. This is her third time leading the after-school club to the state tournament. “I’m so impressed by our students’ commitment to growth,” says Laliberte. “Most people say their number one fear is public speaking, but these students do it in their free time.”

Reddy sees the value in polishing these skills. “Debate is not only fun, but has helped me to better articulate my opinions and strengthen life skills such as public speaking and improvising. I am looking forward to the years ahead.”


Laliberte says the team is always on the lookout for community members interested in judging debate rounds, other teams looking to practice, and venue space to host a tournament in Hilo. The team also welcomes financial donations to defray the cost of tournament travel.

Anyone interested in supporting Viking Debate should contact Coach Elizabeth Laliberte at (808) 313-5663 or

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