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Herriman Journal

Winning kindly: Providence Hall takes state debate

May 08, 2019 04:49PM ● By Jet Burnham

Winning kindly: Providence Hall takes state debate

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

When the dust had settled at the division 3 state speech and debate tournament, Providence Hall High School had beat the second-place team—Juab High School—by two points. As they filed out of the auditorium, both teams stopped to applaud one another. A few days later, PHHS received a letter of congratulations signed by every member of the Summit Academy High School speech and debate team, which had finished third.

Not what you’d expect from debaters, right? 

“We’re not out to try to destroy people,” said PHHS speech and debate coach Steve Porter. “We’re out to destroy their arguments and come away with friends.” 

His team develops what he calls “friendly rivalries.” When his students lose a round, they genuinely compliment the winner. They exercise good sportsmanship when they win their round.

“We win kindly,” said assistant coach Isabella Cauley. “The spirit of debate is more camaraderie than it is superiority.” 

Students learn to see their mistakes as a starting point for improvement, which helps them grow as people as well as debaters, said Cauley. 

The skills required to excel in speech and debate competitions benefit students in other areas of their lives.

Senior Brinleigh Cahoon said debate has taught her how to separate emotions from a discussion with someone with a differing opinion. 

“I find that a lot of people can’t disconnect a person from their argument,” she said. “It leads to a lot of conflict, not just between friends but between families.” 

Kyra Silcox said debate teaches general communication skills. She has learned to present her feelings and facts without discounting another’s opinion. 

“I feel like people don’t know how to communicate and argue—especially when they disagree with each other,” said Silcox. “In debate, you have to learn to argue both sides so it gives you a better understanding of what other people may be feeling and how you can present your own feelings.”

Cauley, who loved competing in high school and college debate, encouraged her younger sister, Monique, to join the PHHS team.

“It’s really about finding your voice and realizing how to communicate that to the world,” said Cauley. “And the younger you are, and the sooner you learn that skill, the more confident you’re going to be in who you are.” 

Monique’s experience on the debate team has revealed new interests and reshaped her future plans. She has developed a passion for politics, which she hopes to study in college. She recommends debate for everyone.

“Everything that the program stands for and encourages is something that every single person, no matter what age, no matter what grade, no matter what family, can benefit from,” she said.

Joining the team was turning point in Tiffany Chen’s life. As a non-native English speaker, she joined to “further advance and deepen my English skills by arguing and by opening up new perspectives.” She has found opportunities to expand her knowledge from research topics into real-world applications such as contributing facts about pharmaceutical companies (a topic from a debate competition) to a discussion of drugs in her biology class.

There is a wide range of speech and debate events that require different skill sets. Porter helps each student find their niche.

“It’s not just about finding the right argument, it’s about finding yourself,” said Porter. “There are so many different events, you find what you like.”

While some students are naturally eloquent or analytical, he believes hard work is what wins the round.

“Debate’s not like basketball,” said Porter. “In basketball, you get one 7-footer, and you dominate everything. [Debate] is not so much based on talent as it is desire. It's the kids who really, really want it—they are the ones who put the time in, who practice, who get all the information, and they end up winning.”

The PHHS team competes in two competitions each month between October and March. Some last two days, and most require long-distance travel. The students appreciate the time their coach, assistant coach and parent volunteers invest to support them.

Porter had a new baby born just one week before state, and while the students put in extra practices that week without him, he was there to support them at the competition.

“He went to state instead of staying with his family, which is something we really appreciate—all the time that he puts in for us and the sacrifices he makes to be with us,” said Monique Cauley.

Silcox said Porter is the backbone of the team. He began as assistant coach just four years ago. In his three years as head coach, the team has won third place in region, third place in state twice, first place in region twice and now first in state. They plan to continue bringing home the trophies.

“We're hoping we’re building a tradition,” said Porter.

In addition to the team’s wins, these PHHS speech and debate team members won their individual events.

at State:

Hailee Martin – Congress

Monique Cauley – National Extemporaneous

Kyra Silcox – Impromptu

Tanner Christensen – Foreign Extemporaneous

at Region:

Monique Cauley and Kyra Silcox – Public Forum

Tanner Christensen – Foreign Extemporaneous

Carol Tellez Congreras – Foreign Extemporaneous

Monique Cauley – National Extemporaneous

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