Students are the forefront of every debate competition, but coaches, teachers and parents all donate their time to make those competitions a success

By Adam Musgrave

In February, debate students from across western Florida descended on Newsome High School hoping to earn a bid to the state championship in March.

Teams traveled as far as 70 miles to be part of the regional qualifier. The tournament began at 7:30 a.m. and ran until early evening; students spent the day debating topics ranging from funding for space flight to birthright citizenship.

Overall, there were 12 distinct events represented, which included both debate and interpretive performances.

“This is [these kids’] sport,” said Robin Emery, coach of Newsome and host for the qualifier tournament. “I can’t say enough about how great our community is. It’s an environment where people can bring their family; parents spend almost as much time here as their kids do. We couldn’t do this without them.”

Parents at Newsome share Emery’s enthusiasm for the program.

“Judging tournaments makes me understand more what my child does,” said parent Deandra Dean-McLeod. “It really is a family affair for all,” added Laurie O’Sullivan.

Coaches, parents and students alike see debate as a primarily educational experience despite the level of competition, according to Terri St. John, the regional director of the Florida Forensic League. “They’re gaining something out of this that will help them throughout their lives,” she said.

Activities like debate help students to learn public speaking, researching, editing and critical thinking skills, according to Emery and St. John. These skills will, in turn, translate to their workplace, no matter what professions they choose.

Emery and her students have chosen to use those skills to work with others. The team has gotten involved in speech competitions through the Rotary club and has even made itself available to help members of the school and community in preparing for the writing and delivery of public speeches.

Senior Theron Walsh sees the helpful atmosphere as a refreshing change from Texas, where he used to debate. “In Texas, debate is like a religion,” he recalled. “It’s all about winning.” He and his partner Michael Kahn are among those who will be moving on to the State Championship.

The State Championship Tournament debate will take place on Sunday, March 4, at University School in Davie, FL.

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