SMITHFIELD – The Sky View High School debate team has a history of success. The debate team’s trophy case is filled with state championship awards and the wall in the debate room has its fair share of plaques. The team did well again this year. After winning the UHSAA State Speech & Debate Tournament, the school is sending 10 students to Overland Park, Kansas to compete in the national competition this week.
There will be 110 different districts around the country represented at nationals. Each district sends the top two students for each event. Sky View is part of the Wasatch district, one of the two districts from Utah, and will be filling 10 of the 21 district spots. They qualified to send 16. The debate team’s co-president Ciera White said that in order to win tournaments, the team has to perform well in all the events.
“The best way to explain tournaments is like a track meet,” she said. “Because you have everybody competing in different events and some people are better at other ones.”
With thousands of competitors around the country, it can be very difficult to make it past the first day of competition. The top 14 in each category will “break” – which means they move on to the next level of competition. White said that the team’s goal is to have everyone do the best they can, but she would like to see somebody reach that level.
“In the last nine years we haven’t had anyone break for Sky View so it would be awesome to break that dry spell,” she said.
Sky View debate coach Jody Orme said the recognition his students are getting and the tournaments they compete in are great, but that speech and debate is doing more to help prepare the team for the future than most other extra-curricular activities can.
“So many smart kids in schools are so focused,” he said. “They are horses with blinders. They are so focused on getting their A’s. They are so focused on college and that’s good. I wish I was even that kind of kid when I was in high school.”
He said the debate students are different.
“My debate kids are bright, but their heads are up,” he said. “They’re looking around and they are interested in what is going on in the world. They are getting into conversations about what is going on in Syria, right now what is going on in Iraq, what American foreign policy should be. I mean some of these kids know an awful lot more about what is going on in the world than most, a matter of fact, of the adults walking around in our community.”
Colleen Coyle is an example of how the debate program can prepare a student. She said she didn’t used to care as much about school. She signed up for debate her sophomore year because she was short on classes.
“I sort of got caught up in it and it started to snowball and suddenly it was what I was doing the whole time,” she said. “That’s what I cared about. Then suddenly, I didn’t just care about debate. I cared about my grades. I cared about what activities I was participating in and I started to care about what college I was going to.”
Coyle is now the co-president of the debate team.
“To come to a place where everybody is very motivated and where everybody is working to better themselves, it’s really good for kids like me that started out with a different path,” she said.
Michael Ruiz-Leon, a junior on the team, said he wants to be a doctor one day, and he believes the skills he picked up in debate will help him with that.
“I think the communication skills are universal to any job,” he said. “Being able to go from debate, and take the lessons I learned from debate and what’s going on in the world should be something that I’ll value my whole life.”
Kolin Knowles explained that one of the biggest fears people have is public speaking, something that, because of the debate team, he doesn’t worry about.
“A lot of people will have a church talk or something and will be absolutely mortified with hands shaking, just absolutely terrible,” he said. “I enjoy doing things like that now. Because I’m like, ‘Let’s see what I can do with this.’”