Just weeks off their third place win at their own invitational competition last November, the members of the Eisenhower Speech and Debate Team prepares excitedly for their next meet. All around the room, students are bringing speeches and monologues to life through funny voices and accents as well as hand gestures and facial expressions to match the tone of their pieces.
The speeches have an air of professionalism and wit, making use of clever arguments to prove points. The variety of the monologues and interpretations range from a tragic Christmas memory that will leave an audience in tears, to a gut-busting driving lesson. All around the room, students are laughing and having a great time on the debate team.
Participants say being in debate can also have many benefits to school and everyday life. Not only does it look good when applying for colleges, it helps students become more involved in school activities. It can also be a fantastic opportunity to make new friends.
Julia Schenk, a junior in the program at Eisenhower High School, describes debate as “Amazing-ness.”
“It’s a way to debate and talk and, if you like acting, it’s a way to act without auditioning,” she says.
Schenk joined debate because of its fun atmosphere.
“It’s truly life-changing,” she adds. “It looks good on a college application, you get to meet new people and go places with the team. Anyone should join. It’s especially good for aspiring actors because it gets them into character.”
The debate team offers a wide category of events for students to participate in. The events are backed by weeks of research, practice and memorizing. Interpretations, Lincoln-Douglas style debates, impromptu speeches and editorial commentary are just a few examples of the activities students in the club can take part in year-round,
“We do all different types of events and practice them,” says freshman Aria Lupino, who says that being a part of the team has been a great experience. “I feel smarter, which is awesome.”
Junior Emily Goodell notes that being in debate has had a major effect on her life.
“I like being a part of debate. It’s like a family. It allows me to be who I am and choose pieces to perform that are me that no one else can choose for me. It’s been a boost to my self-esteem because I know I’m good at it and I can be recognized for it.”
The other positive upside to debate is the recognition. Goodell has earned seven individual awards in the past two competitions. According to Stuart McCurdy, the team coach, the Eisenhower team has won “several hundred” awards since it was created in the 1950s.
“About a dozen are earned per competition,” he adds.
A competition day can be more than 12 hours long. Standards are set by the National Forensics League, which is a non-profit high school honors society that promotes debate and public speaking. There are more than 12 speaking events and about four to five debate events that have separate standards. These events are evaluated by one to three judges.
Other schools in the region that compete are Liberty Bell in Winthrop, Wenatchee, Ephrata, Quincy, Moses Lake, Chiawana, Pasco and Walla Walla. Eisenhower is one of about 150 schools represented by the Washington State Forensics Association. It is represented as a competitive team sport that also functions as a club.
To top off the benefits, McCurdy says, “The true purpose is to create more aware, well-rounded students prepared for college and the real world.”
• Hannah McFadden is a freshman at Eisenhower High School and a member of Yakima Herald-Republic’s Unleashed journalism program for high school students.