Debate wins again
The Tonganoxie High School debate team has, once again, managed to post an exemplary season.
The four-speaker team placed first at state this weekend at Goddard. Megan Needham, Andrew Becker, Heather Young and Paul Reetz placed first as a four-speaker team. Two two-speaker teams placed fourth at the state tournament. Students who placed were Sarah Melchior and Melissa High and Caleb Poterbin and Kelly Woelk.
However, no one, not even debate coach Steve Harrell, can attribute the team's success to anything in particular.
"There are a lot more people who know a lot more about debate than I do," Harrell said.
He said his students work and practice hard, but so do members of other high school teams.
Heather Young, sophomore, said she thinks that Harrell has much more to do with the team's success than he lets on.
"Mr. Harrell's really modest," Young said.
Young said she became interested in debate in eighth grade when she had Harrell's wife as her history teacher. She said they had small debates in class and she really enjoyed doing it, so she pursued it in high school.
"I was excited about it because I'm not involved in any sports or anything," Young said. "It's a bit more challenging than other classes, and I like that challenge."
Harrell said several junior high teachers work as his recruiters. These teachers inform students about the team and encourage some students at it to look into debate once they enter high school.
"They know the kids that have skills that would be good in these areas," Harrell said. "They really encourage those kids so that I start out with great kids that want to be here."
Harrell said the recruitment helps.
"They know they're joining something with a known track record," Harrell said.
Sarah Melchior, senior, said she had teachers who encouraged and convinced her to join the debate squad when she began high school.
"When I was a freshman, I had a bunch of teachers tell me I should join, so I did," Melchior said. "And I really enjoyed it, so I stuck with it."
Melchior said she and other team members have confidence the team will do well each time they travel to a tournament.
Harrell said he enjoys coaching the team because he sees the benefits debate provides the students.
"I really believe activities are good for every kid," Harrell said.
Debate does demands a lot of time, Melchior said, but she is always able to complete her school work and her employer is very understanding about giving her time off when she requests it.
Cara Langston, senior, said she believes the team's secret to success is the fact that they are all friends.
"The people that debate together are usually best friends, so there's that strong bond there," Langston said.
Harrell said the skills that debate teaches students will help them after high school. Students learn note-taking, speaking and organizational skills.
This season, the team debated the topic of limiting the use of weapons of mass destruction.
"Everything we do is academic," Harrell said.
For Langston, debate helped her overcome shyness.
"I know that when I was younger, I was so shy," Langston said. "It just helped get rid of that fear of talking and of public speaking."
Harrell said that he was pleased with the debate team's performances this year.
"It was a great season," he said. "We had a lot of great milestones, we won some big tournaments, qualified two teams for nationals... and to have students do well at the end of the season just kind of tops it all off."
Debaters who earlier in the school year qualified for the National Catholic Forensics League competition, set to be held Memorial Day weekend in Pittsburgh, Pa., are Sarah Melchior, Melissa High, Caleb Poterbin and Kelly Woelk.