Four weeks into the 2014 debate season, squads from each of three high schools in Lawrence have already racked up some important tournament victories despite facing some early preseason obstacles.
For the debaters themselves, especially those returning from last year, the biggest hurdle was shifting their focus from domestic policy to international relations and dealing with a kind of multiple-choice resolution that offers teams an option about which specific issue to debate.
After spending all of last season debating U.S. spending on transportation infrastructure, this year's topic asks them to argue the pros and cons of increasing U.S. economic engagement with Cuba, Mexico or Venezuela.
“Multiple-choice foreign policy debate topics support a much broader array of affirmative cases,” Bishop Seabury Academy coach Larry Lawrence said. “Teams react in one of two ways: either they run generic arguments that apply to many cases or they embrace the complexities and learn a lot more.”
Lawrence High Lions
Lawrence High School has had the most success in the first three weeks, despite this being what veteran coach Jeff Plinsky calls a “rebuilding year” after graduating eight seniors in 2013.
Sophomores Stefan Petrovic and Kaitlyn Pruet took first in the sophomore break-out division at the Washburn Rural Invitational in Topeka Sept. 20-21. The following week, sophomores Alex Moriarty and Michael Straub led the Lions to the sweepstakes trophy by placing first in the open division at the St. James Academy tournament in Lenexa. And at Emporia Sept. 28, the team of freshman Sung Ho Hwang and senior Phoebe Clark took first in the novice division.
“We've got a lot of freshmen who are coming in and are doing some great things,” Plinsky said. “We've got some sophomores that are stepping up and doing well. And we've got juniors that are making that final step into varsity. We have every confidence that they'll be there and we look forward to them, by the end of the season, showing us some flashes.”
Free State Firebirds
Meanwhile, Free State High School went through a somewhat tumultuous coaching change after veteran coach Jo Ball left at the end of last year to take a job at Olathe South High School. Her immediate replacement lasted only a few weeks, until Aug. 30. Now, English teacher and first-year coach Jason Moore, aided by two assistant coaches, is handling the squad of 84 students.
Last weekend, however, the Firebirds swept the open division at the Olathe Northwest Invitational when two of their teams — Juniors Parker Hopkins and Solomon Cottrell and seniors Logan Brown and Carl Palmquist — both advanced to the final round.
“I've seen a lot of things that make me optimistic about the squad for the rest of this season and beyond,” assistant coach Michael Shelton said. “Though we still have a great deal of work to do, the work that we have done and are doing will build a strong foundation for success.”
Bishop Seabury Seahawks
At Bishop Seabury, where debate is a student-led extracurricular activity, Larry Lawrence is now in his first year as head coach, although he has been involved as a parent sponsor and assistant coach since the program began four years ago. He succeeded Joe Wessels, who is still working with the squad as an assistant coach.
With a squad of eight debaters, and only one returning from last year, the Seahawks have already brought home medals for individual speakers.
At the Washburn Rural Open tournament Sept. 20-21, Seabury team captain Adeline Graham, a junior and the only returning member of the squad, medalled as the second best individual speaker, out of 108 competing. Meanwhile her partner, freshman Paige Lawrence — coach Lawrence's daughter who was competing in her first tournament — finished 12th individually.
“We are now in the fifth year of our program and have finished third at 3-2-1A State tournament the last two years, and fifth the two years before that.” Lawrence said. “We have only eight debaters. But, as Yoda said, size matters not.”