By Celine Klosterman
This month and last, Dylan Diewold and Andrew Schilling spent close to three “definitely tough” weeks researching for two or more hours a day, Dylan said.
That effort paid off two weekends ago, when the seniors at Notre Dame Junior/Senior High School in Burlington were named runners-up in their division and category at the Iowa High School Speech Association state debate tournament. It was the school’s first year competing.
Fellow Notre Dame students Zach Champion, a senior, and Grace Deery, a sophomore, made it to the octo-finals of the Jan. 15-16 competition at Iowa City West High School. Joining them in the octo-finals were juniors Matt Lincoln and Kelly Arndt, and sophomores David Rudolph and Emily Duncan, all of Regina Junior/Senior High School in Iowa City. That school also was participating for the first time. Regina and Notre Dame were among 35 teams in their division competing in the public forum category, in which students debate issues relating to current events.
“They did fantastic for a first-year rookie team,” said Cynthia Hames, Regina’s speech teacher.
Dylan, who said he was thrilled to bring recognition to Notre Dame, was surprised by the results. “We expected to make it into the first round of the tournament, but then we just kept advancing,” he said. “We thought, ‘how is this happening?’”
For the event, students competing in public forum were asked to research and debate whether President Barack Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan was good for America. Teams discovered just before debating which side they’d argue – making the endeavor “an outstanding exercise in thinking on your feet,” said Mary Jo Miller, Notre Dame’s speech teacher.
Even David, who’d taken part in debates in Regina classes and participated in school musicals, plays and speech groups, found the competition challenging.
“This is so different from anything else,” he said. “You have to prepare arguments for both sides, do tons of research and make sure your sources are credible. And you have to make four-minute speeches on the spot during the debate.”
But the effort was worth it, David said. “I think I’ve become a lot better at writing speeches faster and on the spot. My thinking is a lot quicker now, and I’m more alert.”
Dylan agreed. “When people throw these questions at you and question the legitimacy of your sources, that’s not something you can prepare for. That’s something you have to know.”
Practical skills are what Miller hopes her students gain. “Argumentation is a real life skill to master.” The ability to communicate is vital, too, she said.
Both she and Hames hope to get more students involved in the tournament and compete in more categories in the future.
Some Notre Dame students have already shown interest after seeing their school’s recent success, Dylan said. “I think this goes to show that if you put in the time and effort, you can do anything.”