Students prepare for district debate tournament

Published 4:50 pm Friday, March 4, 2016

Students in Pelham High School’s debate class research complex topics, developing arguments for debate tournaments. (Reporter photo / Jessa Pease)

Students in Pelham High School’s debate class research complex topics, developing arguments for debate tournaments. (Reporter photo / Jessa Pease)

By JESSA PEASE / Staff Writer

PELHAM— Not every high school class provides a platform for heated discussions on a regular basis. Pelham High School offers that and more through its debate class for those students interested in delving in current affairs and dissecting topics.

“I loved the idea of informing myself of current events and getting the opportunity to go against other people my age to talk about things that students don’t usually talk about,” said sophomore Luci Smitherman.

The class provides a setting for competitive debate and is held during the high school’s skinny period. Teacher Tonya Hatch said the students get a new topic each month and work to perfect their arguments.

There are two types of debate the class practices: Public forum and Lincoln-Douglas. Hatch said the Lincoln-Douglas debates are based on ethics and philosophy, allowing only one individual to discuss topics.

The Public forum debate is a two-man team focused on more current issues, such as gun control.

“They take complex topics and they have to research and write cases, practice those cases and theoretically everybody goes and competes,” Hatch said.

While the program is currently in a rebuilding phase, Hatch said the students have participated in three tournaments against schools, such as Mountain Brook, Vestavia and Montgomery Academy.

The most recent competition, Over the Mountain Classic Debate Tournament, took place the weekend of Feb. 27. Smitherman, Tramaine Moore, Jaslyn Henderson and Johnny Kral won multiple rounds in their Lincoln-Douglas topics.

Now, Smitherman and senior Max Hall are burying themselves in research, preparing for the Deep South District Tournament in Montgomery March 11. This is the district tourney and the qualifier for the NSDA National Tournament.

Hall has been part of the debate class/club since he was a sophomore.

“It definitely helps with confidence and speaking skills,” he said of the class. “I liked the idea of debate to begin with. I liked the idea of a logical argument, so debate was just something I got into and I really enjoyed it.”

Hall and Smitherman will be partners in a public forum division. The topic is: “Should the United States remove the military base they keep in Okinawa?”

Both students said they have developed pro and con arguments and have been comparing notes and critiquing each other’s work. They will also debate the topic in class to see how their arguments hold up.

“I really like this topic because in the past, a lot of the topics have been very one sided,” Hall said. “It’s very hard to argue another side. This one seems very balanced.”

Hatcher plans to continue growing the program, and said the class should be a full period next year rather than a skinny class. There is also a speech division to debate, which she said she hopes to expand into.