First-Year Debate Team Qualifies 5 for National Tournament

4/2/2021

Sometimes you can find the silver lining behind the dark cloud of the pandemic. The Demon Debate Team certainly did. When COVID travel restrictions forced all the tournaments onto Zoom, the Demons could participate without travel expenses, and five of the 11 team members qualified for the national tournament in June.

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Sometimes you can find a silver lining

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in the dark cloud of the COVID pandemic.

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Durango High School's first

year debate team certainly did.

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Last summer, a group of students proposed

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to form a debate team for

the first time in years,

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but the proposal nearly

died on the podium.

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That's because the school

didn't have the funds

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to pay for the team's travel expenses.

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But debate teams don't need a gym

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or playing field to compete.

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So when COVID forced

competitions on to Zoom,

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the Demon debate team soon found itself

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not only entering tournaments,

but winning them too.

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In fact, the team won

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the Western Slope District Sweepstakes.

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Coach Todd Jolley was named

top new coach of the year

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and five members from the

first year team will compete

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in the national tournament in June.

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Jolley attributes the

team's first year success

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to a lot of early failures

on the debate circuit,

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because team members were trying

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to be too nuanced and balanced.

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And I remember the

moment where I was like,

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You guys need to be more like Cable News.

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And it was like breaking

my heart to say that,

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but also it helps us win .

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We've done a lot better

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since we became more

partisan on either side.

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And lots of the kids like Lucas Spader

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one of our competitors

will switch his sides

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in the same round and be like,

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I changed my mind, you

guys are so persuasive,

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and then give a speech

from the other side,

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which is really cool,

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rhetorically, to see

them be able to do that.

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Senior Jacob Genualdi,

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says his teammates helped him qualify

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for the national tournament in

U.S. Extemporaneous Speaking,

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with the feedback they gave

him during practice rounds.

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Some words look good on paper

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and some words are really

meant to be spoken.

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And so that was a really important

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kind of revelation for me

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'cause I know there's sometimes

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when I'll write out a

speech and I'll be like,

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oh, that sounds just great,

looking at it on paper,

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but then when it just doesn't

quite come out quite right.

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So that's really the thing about

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really focusing on speech

rather than writing.

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Junior Thomas Pope,

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who took first place at the district meet

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to qualify for nationals in

U.S. Extemporaneous Speaking,

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says team members'

differing political views

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helped him sharpen his arguments.

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The good thing about debate is

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cause there's definitely

people who lean very far right,

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very far left and more in the center.

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And we're all able to

give each other feedback

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on our speeches to make

sure it's not so polarizing

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and it's still being persuasive because

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if you're just preaching

to the choir all the time,

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you're really not going to get better.

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But when you're able to have that discord

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with people who don't

agree with you on much,

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then you're able to really

improve your own persuasion.

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Other national qualifiers

include Lucas Spader,

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who won first place at districts

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for International Extemporaneous

Speaking and qualified

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for the national student Congress,

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Ethan Gray, who won first at districts,

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to qualify for student Congress,

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Hunter gray, who won

third in student Congress

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to attend nationals,

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and Owen Babcock, who won

fifth in student Congress

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and will attend the

nationals as an alternate.

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But Jolly says the real winner

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of the debate team's

accomplishments is the country.

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As a coach, it's been

such a pleasure to do this

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in such a polarized year

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and when we need citizenship

and civility more than ever.

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I mean at any time,

since at least the 1960s

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more like the 1860s, we need the civility.

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And so I'm seeing young people be civil

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and be active in their community

has just been important

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to me as an individual,

not just as an educator.

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So it gives me hope for the future

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to see these kids doing this.

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And I'm so proud to know

that they're going to go

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out in their communities

and make a difference.

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Jolly expects high school speech

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and debate tournaments to return

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to in-person competitions next year.

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And so returning team

members are launching a

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fundraising campaign to cover $14,000

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in travel expenses for a 14 member team.

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If you'd like to help visit

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durangoathletics.durangoschools.org

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and click on the donate button.

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Thanks for watching this edition

of the Local News Network

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serving Durango, Cortez,

Telluride, Pagosa Springs,

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and Farmington, New Mexico.

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I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

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