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Herriman Journal

Providence Hall debaters take their arguments online

Apr 29, 2020 11:01AM ● By Jet Burnham

Aedan Payne, Hailee Martin, McKenzie Capito and Mikael Weiss were top winners in the Division 3 state debate tournament. (Steve Porter/Providence Hall High School)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

School closures and the end of competition season doesn’t prevent debaters from flexing their debate muscles. High school debate students from across the state participate in online debate chats.

“A lot of our communication happens online,” said McKenzie Capito, a freshman at Providence Hall High School. “We still can continue to advance our debate skills. We make cases and send them to each other and get comments on those. We get feedback from one another.”

Her teammate Aeden Payne said discussions are lively.

“Sometimes, the debates carry over from tournaments and into group chats over the course of four days on the same subject, so it gets to be really interesting,” he said.

Some chat groups are for specific events that attract kids from several different high school teams.

“It's incredibly fun to talk to people who know your events and understand the topics,” said senior Hailee Martin. “A lot of politically aware teenagers in the same group chat is incredibly entertaining. It's a really healthy way of establishing your own identity, as well as finding people that you also identify with.”

PHHS debate adviser Steve Porter said chats don’t get heated like many online discussions among adults.

“They’re learning you can disagree with people and argue with people, but you also have that underlying respect,” he said. “So, they'll argue back and forth on things, but then they still have that relationship afterwards. It's not an all or nothing proposition, which is rare in today's world.” 

This camaraderie among the high school debate community is what strengthens their skills and what members of the Providence Hall High debate team said contributes to their success. They have won first place in their division at state for the last two years.

“Even though there are so many schools that participate in debate, the community itself is very close-knit and open,” Hailee said. “There's very few competitors that are rude or curt or as competitive as other sports.”

McKenzie said as a newbie this season, she was surprised by how friendly and helpful debaters from other schools were at competitions.

“Before rounds, we would get to know each other on a friendly basis,” she said. “Because this is my first year, it was really, really helpful. I was able to talk to some of the seniors and the juniors, and they taught me a lot of different things that I hadn't been taught before. They explained to me what some of their points meant.”

When Hailee was new to competition, experienced debaters from the Morgan High School team recognized she was a new face and offered support and advice.

“It was really comforting to have that idea that, yes, we are competing against each other, we're part of different schools, we are technically not supposed to really like each other or give each other advice, but the entire Morgan team that was competing in that room that day helped me so much,” she said. “They were so supportive and nice. That's something that really taught me the ethics and the community of debate.”

Porter hopes other teams see the PHHS team as equally supportive and helpful.

“We make a point to be friendly, outgoing and respectful, and that is reflected back to us,” he said.

Porter is impressed with his group’s teamwork. After competition rounds, he is heartened to see his team huddled around each other, providing feedback and advice.

Assistant coach Bella Cauley attributes the team’s success to the students’ willingness to help each other, to their focus and to the support from a coach as dedicated as Porter.

Hailee said their team is like a family.

“As a team, we all have a responsibility to help each other out,” she said. “Challenging people's belief systems or maybe finding evidence for someone, helping them challenge their cases, watching someone speak and giving pointers on speaking style or their posture—I think all of that helps. It's definitely a team effort.”

Team members strive to celebrate every win and ensure everyone feels loved and accepted as part of the team.

“I think that alone really has pushed our success this year, as well as practicing 24/7,” Hailee said.

The team also feels support from its school.

“The administration really goes out of its way to support us,” Porter said.

The Providence Hall High School debate team won first place in Division 3 at state competition.

Individual team honors include:

Monique Cauley - state champion in National Extemporaneous Speaking and state champion in Student Congress

Tanner Christensen - second place, Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking

Brynn Treiber - second place, Impromptu Speaking

Leo Wheeler - fourth place, Policy Debate

Lea Seo - fourth place, Policy Debate

McKenzie Capito - fifth place Oratory, fifth place Lincoln Douglas

Aedan Payne - fifth place, Oratory

Megan Myers - fifth place, Impromptu

Olivia Smith - seventh place, Oratory

Maya Thornell - 10th place, Impromptu