Moffat County High School students prepare for state-level debate
Two high school students are headed to Fort Collins for the state tournament, with alternates waiting in the wings
March 11, 2016
Craig — When Wes Atkin and Jake Stewart enter into ordinary conversations, the imprint that debating has left on their minds never completely vanishes.
"This year being in debate," Atkin said, "Has made me want to debate people on topics in everyday life."
Both Atkin and Stewart are Moffat County High School seniors who are headed to Fort Collins High School from Thursday to March 19 for the Colorado High School Activities Association State Speech and Debate Tournament.
The two will be engaging in what's termed Cross-Examination Debate, or Policy Debate, on the topic of U.S. domestic surveillance. They may be arguing, Stewart explained, that the United States Federal Government should substantially curtail its domestic surveillance. Or, they may be asked to take the opposing position.
"Most of the evidence that we're using has been tailored to the debate because it's so specific," Stewart said. "We have access to primary sources, but it's really hard to build a policy from them."
But the sources they've explored are diverse ones, including some from Muslim advocacy groups.
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"There are some (sources) that say that a 'hearts-and-mind' strategy is the only way to solve domestic terrorism," Stewart said, describing one position. "By not using informants, we allow cooperation."
Atkin said one skill he's had to learn involves speed — on a variety of levels.
"There's a lot of critical thinking — thinking on the spot — as well as being able to interpret things fast and speak fast," Atkin said.
Atkin mentioned one way to practice that last skill.
"You can put pencils in your mouth and try to speak so you feel freer when you actually do it," he said. "Or you just repeat the case over and over so it becomes habit."
Stewart said theater experience has helped him out in this situation.
"Because of musicals, I've been taught to over-enunciate," he said. "It's worked in our favor that we've done so many other things."
Stewart and Atkin also participate in theater and choir.
Karen Chaney, coach of the speech and debate team at the high school, noted some of the academic skills that speech and debate can help to hone. She said in an email that students "develop confidence in their thinking, speaking and listening skills" and that they get a chance to dig into "timely questions of national or global concern, so students broaden their perspectives on the world and are well-versed in current events and issues."
As for the speech events, she pointed out the way students' "verbal memory" is strengthened by the act of presenting, orally, literary works without notes or scripts.
Atkin noted, too, how competing in debate has given him a broad view of topics.
"We see both sides: reasons why people think that government surveillance should be enforced, and reasons why it shouldn't," he said. "It kind of gives us an objective view of things, so we're able to learn how to research different topics and then make what we think is the best choice."
And Stewart, like Atkin, said he often finds himself slipping into debate mode in everyday life.
"I don't know how to compartmentalize," Stewart. "And I've been doing this for three years."
Other Moffat County High School students may also play roles in the tournament.
Jeremy Looper is the first alternate in Poetry Interpretation, and McKenzie Aguirre and Jessica A. Johnson comprise the second alternate team in Duo Interpretation, explained Chaney.
Chaney said Cooper will get to go to state if one of the qualifiers can't go, and McKenzie and Aguirre will go if two of the qualifying teams can't attend.