EVANSTON — Evanston will come alive with the spoken word Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25-26, when hundreds of speech and debate competitors from at least nine different western Wyoming schools descend on Evanston High School for the city’s annual tournament.
Justin Scholes, who is in the midst of his first year as a coach with Evanston’s speech and debate team, said most people don’t realized the variety and depth of the events students prepare for, all of which are unique and challenging.
“There are lots of different events…which I think most people don’t know much about,” Scholes told the Herald. “I certainly didn’t before I was coaching.”
Among the many events are:
• Debate events. In the “public forum debate” event, two students work as a team to debate the impact of political policies. Scholes said a coin is tossed prior to the debate to determine which team will argue which position of an issue. That, of course, means the students must be prepared to argue either position beforehand.
• Lincoln-Douglas debate. In this “value-based” debate, students select a value they believe is the most important as it pertains to the topic provided.
“Right now, they’re arguing about whether our approach to justice should be rehabilitation or retribution,” Scholes said.
• Original oratory. In the original oratory competition, students present a prepared speech on a topic of their choosing. They are judged according to the content of the work and their delivery at the event.
• Humorous interpretation. In humorous interpretation, students memorize a humorous piece to present. They come up with their own style and mannerisms for the competition, upon which they are judged.
“They come up with their own voices for each character, their own accents and voices, mannerisms,” Scholes said. “So it’s kind of like a one-man play; they just present a humorous play for the audience.”
• Dramatic interpretation. This competition is similar in form to humorous interpretation — only without the humor.
• Congressional debate. Appropriate for this time of year, when Wyoming legislators are duking it out in Cheyenne, the congressional debate competition requires students to present a proposed bill, talk about its strengths and weaknesses, and explain to the audience why they would support the legislation.
Scholes — who coaches students competing in debate events — joins coaches Jerod Chandler, who oversees the program, and Elle Porter in advising the high school competitive team. Lex Cornia and Trevor Guild are coaches at the middle schools, who are also assisted by Scholes.
Hard work before the big show
Scholes emphasized that students spend copious amounts of time prior to each competition preparing for the event.
“Behind every good speech or case for debate, and even behind the humor and drama, there’s a lot of writing, research, and then several hours of practice each week,” he said. “So, if they’re doing an acting piece, they’re practicing their acting several hours a week. If they’re doing debates, we do research, we do mock debates.”
“Judging is done completely by community members,” Scholes said. “We need around 300 judges from the Evanston community to help out with time slots.”
He noted that, while the Evanston debate team is working hard to coordinate the meet, they won’t be taking the stage themselves.
“You never compete at your own meet, because the community, you would assume, would be biased toward their own people,” he said.
Scholes said judges can participate in as many rounds as they would like, which last between one and 1 1/2 hours each. The meet is expected to begin around 3:30 p.m. Friday and continue Saturday in the early morning through 6 or 7 p.m.
He said they currently have about half the judges they need signed up at this point, so they’re in serious need of more community members to help judge.
“You don’t even have to have experience,” Scholes emphasized. “You go in and watch presentations, and write down who did the best, and why.”
Those interested in participating can contact Scholes at email@example.com or one of the other team coaches. Or, they can just call the high school at (307) 789-0757 to be directed to the right place.
Scholes said there are around 20 students in Evanston’s speech and debate squad, which is open to ninth through 12th graders. And they’re steadily improving as they gain experience from meet to meet.
“It’s fun to see these future leaders of the state and country,” Scholes said. “These are those who are interested in going into law or political science or the arts. And [they address] very sophisticated topics. Amazingly sophisticated topics. I’m always impressed with my high school kids — they are sometimes smarter than I am.”
He also noted the upcoming Evanston meet will benefit the local team, even though they won’t be competing, since hosting schools customarily charge visiting squads to attend their event.