Summit High debate team wins with words
FARMER’S KORNER – When Summit High student and softball player Macaela Holmes developed injuries and had to have hernia surgery, her doctor told her that she would have to get out of athletics. “If I couldn’t play softball, I had always wanted to try to join the debate team, but I was too afraid,” said the 18-year-old. “I showed up at the first meeting scared to death, because speech kids are the most opinionated and the loudest, and are not afraid to argue.” That was two years ago. Today, Holmes is one of the stars of the Summit High Debate Team, which has distinguished itself by winning first place in the Festival State Championships for the last two years. Holmes said that there are strong analogies between physical and verbal athletics.”In the middle of softball, you can’t just quit when you’re losing, you still have to finish even if you know you’re gonna be beat. It’s the same with debate competition. You still have to give it your best.”And, Holmes added, the gratifications when she’s doing her best are just as profound.”It’s a better rush than softball,” she said.Coached by Summit High teachers Emily Campbell, Josh Blanchard and Ernie Friesen, the team competes in not only debate, but also oral interpretation, original oratory and storytelling. Four members went to the national finals this year, where one placed in the top 25, while two others placed in the top 30.”Success breeds success, and we’ve had it from the beginning,” said Campbell. “These kids want to be part of something that’s good. That draws them to it.”
According to Campbell, another attraction is the inclusive atmosphere. In a typical high school world where students are separated by grade and age in many venues, the debate team provides equal opportunities for both freshmen and seniors and gives them a chance to work together. “It gives them that feeling of inclusion that is so important in high school,” Campbell said. “We travel together and compete together. We’re like a family.”And while debate team members have the reputation for braininess, Campbell feels that it’s a more democratic society than some might think. “It has to do more with the ability to communicate rather than academic skills,” she said. “It draws different kids from the whole spectrum of the student population — special ed, immigrants, kids from the top 10 or the bottom 10 of the class. This provides a stable place for them to go.” The team’s participation numbers have nearly doubled every year. The first year there were five members. Now there are 45. Competition is a big part of the debate team’s existence, and the team averages 10-12 meets throughout the school year.”The competitive aspect is not only fun, but it gives us a healthy measure of how we’re doing,” Campbell said. “And winning is important not only for recognition, but also for our funding.” In addition to funding from Summit High, the debate team receives grants from local organizations and members have to raise $1,500 during the school year. In the past few years they’ve done this by holding holiday bake sales, as well as performances given at the Lake Dillon Theatre every spring, where they accept donations.”The community really supports the team,” said Campbell. “They act as judges for the meets, and they give us donations. They really believe in this team, and for us that’s a good feeling.”Future plans
Team captain Jill Rowley plans to take her skills into a future career. Rowley recently spent two weeks at the National Debate Institute at the University of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, and hopes to continue debating in college. “Even if I don’t go into a formal debate team, public speaking skills will always help any career,” she said. Rowley, who is in her third year as a debate team competitor, said the emphasis on current events is a major reason she is on the team.”I really like to be informed about current issues and get involved with them,” said the 18-year-old senior. “This year, the case subject we’ve been working on is ‘Should the UN be the primary aid to lead and direct the fight against terrorism?’ And the other topic is whether or not the NBA should rescind their dress code.” Another senior, 17-year-old Tara Hall, is captain of the interpretation team, whose members perform selections from various plays and literary works.This year, Hall is competing with excerpts from “Sybil,” a book about multiple personality disorders, as well as a selection from Michael Cristofer’s play, “The Shadow Box.” Hall started with the debate team during her freshman year and plans to eventually use her skills in a professional venue.”I had a dream to become a Broadway star, but how many people actually make it in a stage career?” she said. “I think more realistically now. I want to major in communications, and maybe have a career as a broadcast journalist.”Sophomore John O’Connor, who has a similar interest in performing, competes in creative storytelling. “I started doing this because it comes so naturally to me,” said the 17-year-old. “Somebody can tell me anything and I can make up a story about it on the spot.”
O’Connor, who admitted that he loves competing, said the hardest part is being able to organize your thoughts. “They’ll give us three topics, such as ‘G.I. Joe at a dance party getting attacked by Mr. Potato Head,’ and you have 15 minutes prep time before you have to act it out,” he said.O’Connor plans to become an actor and a theater technician, and is already working as a light and sound tech at the Backstage Theater in Breckenridge. He wants to go to a college where he can join a National Forensics League.”I believe that being in the debate team makes opportunities open up,” said O’Connor. “It helps you make new friends. And I’d love to take my skills and teach them to other high school students.” Coach Campbell would agree. She said he her fondest wish is to see debate and speech one day be part of the required high school curriculum.”I believe kids need to learn how to communicate and they need to learn it in high school,” she said. “Not knowing how to communicate breeds frustration, anger and violence, which carries over into their jobs and their lives.”While Campbell is proud of her team of achievers, she believes that every high school student has the capability to be an achiever in a similar fashion.”You can expect a lot from kids and they will rise to the challenge,” Campbell said. “They just have to be asked.”
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