Students at three SVVSD high schools win state debate championships

Mar. 17—Students at three St. Vrain Valley high schools won first place in the recent state Speech and Debate tournament, held over two days in Colorado Springs.

At Longmont High, Greta Wedel and Ben Howard were named co-champions in Lincoln Douglas debate for 4A schools.

Greta, a senior, is in her third year on the debate team. She said she took a debate class on a whim during the pandemic.

"It's a whole lot of fun," she said. "You gain a lot of very beneficial skills, while also enjoying the process. There's the fun of competition, and you get to research these really high level, intricate topics."

At the state competition, the Lincoln Douglas debate topic was "justice requires open borders for human migration." To prepare, she had to research both sides and before being assigned a side to debate one-on-one with her opponent. The event includes a both scripted speech and impromptu rebuttal.

"We just do a boatload of research," she said. "We have scripted cases and evidence blocks to pull up depending on what your opponent is running. We do practice rounds and a lot of them. We have tournaments every week during competition season."

She and classmate Ben, a junior, won all their rounds at the state tournament, allowing them to share the champion title. Ben said he joined the debate team because he likes debating politics with his parents.

"I wanted to learn how to articulate my arguments so I could better express what I thought without sounding like an idiot," he said. "I've also enjoyed the competitive aspect."

He said he's found his debate experience helpful in his academic classes, including helping him write persuasive essays in English.

"There's a lot of critical thinking, which I think is really important," he said.

Added Greta, "There is some real benefit for just about anybody. You're going to walk away with skills and experiences that you really can't get anywhere else."

At Mead High, senior Wren Pritchett was named state champion in extemporaneous speaking for 3A schools. When trying out debate his freshman year, he said, "I instantly fell in love with it and felt that click where I knew it would be my thing in high school."

For extemporaneous speaking, participants are given a topic and have 30 minutes to prepare a seven-minute speech. He said that category requires him to stay informed on current events and has improved his confidence in his speaking abilities.

For the final round at state, he was asked to prepare a speech on what he thought was the most important Supreme Court case in the upcoming term — a topic he had practiced the day before in preparation for state. He chose the current court case in Colorado where a web designer declined to work with a homosexual couple.

"When I got the prompt, I was very confident in my ability to win the final round and win a state championship," he said. "It was a topic I had read a lot about and was ready to answer with many quotes and numbers in order to strengthen my answer."

Also in 3A, Silver Creek High junior Dillon Rankin won state championship in Lincoln Douglas debate for 3A schools, while senior Kaitlin Ruth won in value debate.

Dillon said he joined the speech and debate team as a freshman to get over a fear of public speaking. Plus, he said, he had an interest in argumentation and law. His favorite event is Lincoln Douglas debate.

"I like Lincoln-Douglas because to me it feels like the most classic debate event," he said. "It's one-on-one, based more on philosophy, and allows both competitors to practice speaking clearly and making clear, logic-based points."

He added he's made many of his closest friends on the school's debate team, as well as making friends on other school teams.

"I like speech and debate not only because it encourages students to think critically and practice their public speaking skills, but also because of the community that has formed around it," he said.

While Kaitlin competed in Lincoln Douglas in the past, she said she decided to try value debate because it requires less intense preparation.

In value debate, each round requires debating a different topic. Participants are given the topic 30 minutes before to prepare cases for both sides, then flip a coin to decide who debates which side. Topics she debated at state included "animal migration should be prioritized above all human endeavors," "fentanyl is the biggest issue facing today's youth," and "working from home ought to be a right."

She said she loves the excitement of "having to think fast on your feet."

"I also like the pride you feel after walking away from a round knowing you gave it your all," she said.