Most parents would agree that teenagers excel at arguing, and the South Eugene High School debate team is up there with the best of the best. Competitive debate is split into many subtypes that differ primarily in the number of competitors in the debate and the amount of prep time before debaters must argue for their given topic.
“Parliamentary, which is what I and a good chunk of our debate team does, is where you don’t know what the topic is beforehand, and you and a partner get fifteen minutes to prepare arguments before we just get to yell at each other,” sophomore Ava Vasconcellos said.
Other types of debate include Policy, Lincoln Douglas, Public Forum, and Humorous Interpretation. The varying events allow different types of students to be successful by catering to their individual strengths.
While debate is open to all comers, it takes a little more than basic teenage whining to be great, and South’s debate team has shown that they certainly have what it takes to rise to the top. Last year, South sent a policy debate duo to the National Speech and Debate Association in Salt Lake City that got third place out of 201 teams. This impressive finish by the then-sophomore team of Henry Lininger and Leo Saenger was the highest placement by an Oregon policy team at the national championships since 1994. To advance that high in the competition, Lininger and Saenger had to win their first 11 rounds of competition, a feat unheard of in recent years. This year, the team has already won the Meadows invitational in Las Vegas.
Even in a very academic-oriented environment like South, the pressure to participate in athletics is still significant. However, involvement with a non-athletic club like debate can be more appealing to students for many reasons.
“What is great about parliamentary debate, and even debate in general,” Vasconcellos said, “is that it is so different than other competitive sports or clubs. Not everyone can be good at soccer or football, but any teenager can argue.”
Not only do most students already possess a baseline skill for debate, but also being in debate can boost a student’s academic success. Ronald Bratt of Capitol Debate pointed out the benefits of high school debate when he said, “Students are required to research a topic thoroughly, process information quickly in order to analyze and interpret findings, and most importantly translate complex ideas into simple terms through both written and oral communication.”
“Debate has definitely helped me with writing essays, especially argumentative ones, because I’m able to clearly organize what I want to say,” said sophomore Tiffany Huang. “It has also really helped with my ability to research, find reliable sources, and obviously with my oral presentation and public speaking skills in general.”
Research has shown that students who participate in debate also have increased chances of earning a college degree. A Wall Street Journal report concluded that “participation in debate significantly increased the success rate of college applicants. State and national award winners have a 22-30 percent higher acceptance rate at top tier colleges, and being captain of the debate team improved an applicant’s chances by more than 60 percent, compared with other applicants.”
Despite national success, the debate team remains astoundingly unrecognized and underfunded. Of the 20 South students polled about the Debate Club, only 13 knew of its existence. Some students were aware that South has a debate team but knew nothing of its accomplishments.
“I just assumed we were bad because I never hear about them,” said sophomore Alex Karduna. “I didn’t know they were winning competitions, because I didn’t even know that debate was something you could compete in.”
The debate team is unrecognized not only by some students, but also by the school district as a whole. Students who participate in team sports often get to travel to tournaments all over the state, even competing in other countries. However, the students who compete and represent South Eugene at debate competitions get little to no school support.
“Out of the 10 largest school districts in Oregon, 4J is the only one that does not fund Speech and Debate, an OSAA (Oregon School Activities Association) event. At South, it is the only OSAA sanctioned sport that is not given funding,” Saenger pointed out. “Despite this, our team performs consistently well due to donations and volunteer support”
Undeterred by virtually nonexistent school funding, the debate team thrives, and is helping to shape the future brilliant minds of our nation while representing South Eugene at the national level.