The Art of Arguing

Papers shuffle on a table. Extreme focus lends itself to the absence of words. The loudest sound in the room is the methodical pulse of a ticking clock. Metal folding chairs squeak as judges settle in. And then, a deep breath, a cleared throat, and an emphatic opening statement break the silence and begin another day at a high school speech and debate tournament. 

At Valor, nearly 50 students can be found at competitions just like this one 15 different times throughout the year. Led by Dr. Brian Davis and Mr. Jake Hovis, Valor student debaters compete either alone (Lincoln Douglas) with a focus on resolutions and values or with a partner (public forum) where they argue matters of public policy. 

This fall, Valor Speech and Debate was named the 2018-2019 Leading Chapter in the Rocky Mountain South District by the National Speech and Debate Association. Out of more than 3,000 member schools nationwide, Valor was one of only 109 to receive the Leading Chapter Award. 

Valor’s program began in 2008 under the leadership of Dr. Zach Gautier, but has been led by Dr. Davis for the last eight years. This award pays tribute to all those years of involvement and dedication by team members, Dr. Davis says. “The award basically reflects the longevity of our program, not just success that’s happened over one or two years.”

Learning to Lead

Preparing students for long-term success is just one thing that makes Speech and Debate a unique extracurricular activity. Senior debater Allie Barwind joined the team as a freshman and looks back on four years of competition as a formative experience.

“I decided to join speech and debate because I wanted to work on developing my speaking skills as well as my argumentative skills. I think both are very necessary when we enter into college and into the workforce. Being able to articulate what you believe is a huge aspect of communication that is absolutely necessary. Debate affords everyone who takes it the opportunity to learn about new topics in our society, and how they play a critical role in a lot of politics. I knew debate would be the class, if any, that would prepare me best for a world outside of Valor.”

If there’s anything else evident in the speech and debate team, it’s that these skills translate to any area of life. Dr. Davis brings experience from his background as a pastor and Historical Theology PhD, while Mr. Hovis competed in speech and debate as a student and now uses his public speaking skills as a teacher and a stand-up comedian. 

A Place for All

Students’ interests cover a wide range as well, from STEM to athletics to performing arts, but they are all united by a common desire to learn and grow in their logic and argument skills. Senior Katie Carlson cites the team community as well as skill-building as reasons she loves participating in Speech and Debate. 

“I’ve learned so much on how to better argue with people and how to use better logic in general. The skills from debate have also translated to helping in other classes with in class discussions and presentations, which are an added bonus. I also love the community feeling there is between all of us in debate. Overall, Speech and Debate is just a super positive and fun environment that simultaneously teaches important life skills, such as public speaking and argumentation.”

Whether students practice competitive speech and debate for four years or just one semester, they’re making an investment bigger than just an elective class. “Sometimes they discover a passion that they didn’t know they had for arguing. Other times it just builds their confidence and helps them find their voice.” 

Either way, Valor speech and debate students are building something that will last a lifetime. 

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