Westlake debaters succeed in competitions

Maddie Miller

What comes to mind when you think of a debate team? Most imagine a group consisting mostly of kids wearing thick-framed glasses and pants pulled up to their chest. But here at Westlake, you’ll instead find a classroom full of well-spoken and persuasive debaters.

We all know how to read and write, but how many of us know how to argue effectively? For debater sophomore Mitchell King, the skills he has learned in class continue to help him in everyday situations.

“Debating has made me more confident,” Mitchell said. “I can get my point across easier in conversations, and don’t get as nervous when I have to speak in front of groups of people.”

Last weekend, debaters competed in the end-of-the-year Texas Forensics tourney, held in El Paso. Students must earn enough points through wins at other tourneys throughout the year to qualify for this event. Westlake had 9 qualifiers, 3 more than last year. Of those, junior Tim Roy made the semifinals of Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking, essentially placing 12th in the entire state.

In class, skills such as critical thinking and being able to craft words carefully are just some of the things learned.

“Before taking debate, I never knew how important these skills were,” Mitchell said. “I feel like now I am able to express myself better and think problems through easier.”

This year in debate, it’s not only the students that are learning. Former English teacher Jon Watson has started his first year teaching debate. Along with English, Watson has also been instructing at the Zachary Scott theater for five years. But teaching debate has proven to be a challenge for Watson with his little experience in the subject.

“Crafting arguments, talking fast and getting your point across well are not theater-like,” Watson said. “That’s why it’s necessary for more experienced students to help the less experienced.”

Students help the less-experienced, or novices, by helping them brainstorm for upcoming cases. Junior Drew Burd has been debating for three years and helps mentor his peers. Burd has qualified for the Lincoln Douglas Debate (LD), a competition focused around “moral” issues. He has also finished in the top 50 debaters during a national competition.

“I try to help the novices every day,” Drew said. “I do drills with them to help them get better at speaking, and we also do practice debates in class.”

Along with the many skills learned, debate is a huge commitment.

“I miss a lot of school for competitions,” Drew said. “I spend a significant amount of time each week doing research on the topic that we are debating about, and finding articles to support my position.”

But despite all the hard work that is put into debate, Watson has one main goal set for his students.

“I want my students to be able to express themselves clearly and well,” Watson said. “Everyone has a distinct voice and we all have something to say.”