Matt Balderston, back row, left, and his debate partner, Ben East, seated left, are bound for a national speech and debate competition this summer in Indianapolis. The Moffat County High School juniors will be accompanied by MCHS seniors Ryan Zehner, back row, right, and Cullen Dilldine, seated right.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Matt Balderston, back row, left, and his debate partner, Ben East, seated left, are bound for a national speech and debate competition this summer in Indianapolis. The Moffat County High School juniors will be accompanied by MCHS seniors Ryan Zehner, back row, right, and Cullen Dilldine, seated right.

National aspirations: MCHS students earn spots in national speech and debate championships

At a glance ...

• Two Moffat County High School debate teams bound for national competition in June.

• Seniors Ryan Zehner and Cullen Dilldine, along with juniors Matt Balderston and Ben East, qualified for the national event in cross-examination debate.

• Students beat out teams from other schools in Boulder, Fort Collins and Greeley.

Quotable

“I’m just excited that both teams get to go because it will be a good end to our careers.” — Cullen Dilldine, a Moffat County High School senior, on qualifying for a national speech and debate competition slated for this summer

Four Moffat County High School Speech and Debate team members are preparing to test their skills against other top high school debaters in the nation.

Seniors Cullen Dilldine and Ryan Zehner, along with juniors Matt Balderston and Ben East, secured their spots in April for a national championship scheduled for June in Indianapolis.

In doing so, they beat out debate teams from larger schools in the state, including those in Boulder, Fort Collins and Greeley.

The victory was especially sweet for Zehner, who is the first student in MCHS history to qualify for nationals in three events, he said.

“It’s sort of my little claim to fame,” Zehner said.

He chose to compete in cross-examination debate with Dilldine, his partner in the event.

Balderston and East also will compete together in cross-examination debate.

All four students qualified during a competition April 6 and 7 at Northridge High School in Greeley.

“I’m just excited that both teams get to go because it will be a good end to our careers,” Dilldine said.

“Our last tournament will be with the juniors that we’ve worked with and traveled with for the last three years,” he said.

Qualifying on the national level was a tall order.

Cross-examination debate is laced with nuance and complexity, making it one of the most difficult events in high school speech and debate, coach Casey Kilpatrick said.

“That’s one reason why on the Western Slope, where we compete, it’s dying out as an event because it is so difficult and cumbersome that students have a hard time seeing the value in it,” he said.

“Which I think speaks highly of our students, that they still devote themselves to being incredibly successful in really what is the most arduous speech and debate event."

With the school year drawing to a close, the four national qualifiers are looking beyond the summer into a more distant future. Balderston and East plan to compete in cross-examination debate together next year, they said.

Dilldine will continue his speech and debate career when he enters the University of Wyoming in the fall, thanks to a bit of serendipity following the team’s showing at a February tournament at the University of California-Berkeley.

Dilldine posted a comment about his performance at the event, which caught the eye of the coach of UW’s collegiate cross-examination debate team.

“The next morning I had an email from him offering me a $5,000 per year scholarship that’s renewable for four years to debate for their team,” Dilldine said.

Zehner, however, plans to take a different path.

He will study political science at the University of Colorado in Boulder and eventually enter law school.

Although he doesn’t plan to debate on the collegiate level, his experiences in MCHS speech and debate played a role in deciding his career path.

“It’s been the biggest influential factor in terms of making those decisions,” he said.

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