The debate coach at Chanute High School has a motto for the team: “Hard work is the price of success.” And he said the team is seeing that success as its regular season comes to an end.
Coach Chase Reed said that in the eight tournaments in which the team has competed, CHS has placed first five times, second twice, and finished third in one tournament. Of the 21 students on the team, 15 have qualified for the postseason.
Reed explained that there are several different postseason tournaments in which students can compete. First-year debaters complete as novices, plus divisions for junior varsity, an open division that can consist of anyone, and a varsity level for more experienced debaters.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHAA) sponsors a state tournament for the JV, open and varsity levels that will take place on January 17 and 18 in Fort Scott. Novices will have their own non-KSHAA-sanctioned tournament hosted by the Blue Valley school district. In addition to the state tournaments, there is a regional tournament to qualify for the National Speech and Debate tournament in Albuquerque, N.M. Up to four teams from each school can compete for the chance to go to nationals and two teams from the region will advance. He has been tracking the students to determine the CHS teams.
“How many tournaments they have been to, what their win/loss record is, and how many speaker points they have accumulated,” he said. “Those are the three big things that I look at.”
Every year, the teams debate a singular topic, this year dealing with the United States selling arms to foreign countries. Reed said that the topic was released last January, and some students began working on their cases during the summer before school started.
“When school starts is when we really start hitting it hard,” Reed said. “They have to be prepared to argue against or for the topic.”
Novice debater Cadence Reed (no relation to her teacher) said that the first few weeks of the class they were inundated with information. There were many more students in the class originally, but several switched out of the class after discovering it was not going to be easy.
“The first few weeks are like a debate boot camp,” she said. “Then you get to know everyone and it becomes really fun.”
Coach Reed likened learning debate to learning a language because of the amount of jargon and proper techniques for the competition itself, in addition to the topic for the year.
“I don’t want them to go into a round and feel unprepared,” Reed said. “I love it when they come out of a round with smiles, knowing they won. That will keep them in debate.”
The students may have been overwhelmed at first, but they were glad to be so prepared when it came time to compete. Second year debater Braden Tomlinson thought that Reed over-prepared them, but it was a confidence boost in the end.
“He is very professional in preparing the beginners for a level they probably won’t even experience,” Tomlinson said.
Novice debater Ethan West agreed with Tomlinson, recounting his very first tournament experience.
“I was so stressed out, it was terrifying,” he said. “However, as the tournament went on I realized we were over-practiced and it was a good feeling. We had prepared a lot of stuff that others had not even thought about.”
Debate takes a lot of time outside of class and on weekends.
The team typically leaves for tournaments at 5 am on Saturday mornings and they end the day with a tradition of eating Chinese food. Students listed numerous little rituals that have helped them bond, including head-butts before a round and a chant they recite on the way to tournaments.
“On the bus ride, we have a lot of traditions to wake up and get that energy and excitement,” Reed said. “A round lasts 90 minutes and some of these kids have been through 30 rounds now. That’s a lot of listening, speaking and note-taking. We have to have some fun together and we build that camaraderie.”
Students who have qualified for state include Novices: Jacob Adams, Cavin Cation, Brayden Oliver, Cadence Reed, Emma Atherton, Britin Hanna and Ethan West. KSHAA state qualifiers include Breuana DuVal, Nathan Matlock, Braden Tomlinson, Annyah Yap, Noah Cunningham, Alex Rodriguez and Carson Cuesta.