First-Year Debate Team Qualifies 5 for National Tournament

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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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