Little Hawk Novice Debaters are Stronger than Ever

The next generation of debaters are tackling influential issues while learning from City High debate alumni.

Mariam Keita, Reporter

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Novice Policy debater Rhys Holman ’20 poses at practice. Mariam Keita

Every week, City High alumnus Drew Gartner ‘15 intensely prepares for upcoming debates alongside members of the City High Debate Club. Using his two most trusted teaching instruments, a whiteboard and marker, Gartner writes a quick lesson outline for the attentive debate students.

“Debate promotes critical thinking,” Gartner said. “Our debate students tend to look at issues with a discerning eye.”

Vince Woolums ‘93, head debate coach, started working with the City High team back in 2009. He found out about the job through his friend, Darcy Hutzell, a paraeducator at City with a debate background.

“Long story short, I learned that the school did not have a coach, and I felt like I needed to step in and become a coach,” Woolums said. “[I wanted to] give back to the activity that I took a lot from.”

With only seven members, four being freshmen, Little Hawk Debate is one of the smaller clubs at City. Due to its small size, debaters get to know their teammates fairly well in a relaxed but educational environment.

“I’ve described debate before as a classroom unbounded,” Woolums said. “Debate gives people a platform for talking about issues they want to talk about; it transcends the classroom.”

Gartner, a Little Hawk Debate assistant coach, is currently a sophomore at the University of Iowa. He has been involved with debate since his freshman year at City. According to Gartner, this year’s team is slightly different from the others.

“This year, we have a stronger novice base,” Gartner said. “We’ve also had a little more success in our first year of debates than in the past.”

Rhys Holmann ‘20 and his partner, Simon Weiss ‘20, have had a particularly successful season. Their most notable achievement would be their first place win at the Iowa Caucus Tournament. The duo also made it to semi-finals in their first tournament of the year at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School last October.

All current members of the 2016-17 team have debate backgrounds. Many have participated in the activity as junior high students or have had older siblings that were involved. Although they are novices at the high school level, this isn’t their first time around the block.

“My brother did debate and he spoke of how it was very interesting and engaging, so I followed in his footsteps,” Holmann said.

There are many different types of debate, including Public Forum, Lincoln-Douglas, and Policy. All City High teams are currently working on Policy Debate strategies, though team members have been known to try other branches of debate in the past.

Policy debate participants are assigned a resolution, or a debate topic, by the National Debate Association or NDA. Debaters then spend weeks, or even months, gathering evidence and researching the topic before heading to interscholastic competitions.

“This year’s resolution is essentially asking the question whether or not the United States should increase its policies or engagement with China. It says economic or diplomatic engagement with China, whether or not we should increase trade with them and whether or not that’s a good idea,” Gartner said.

At the competitions, debaters oppose other teams and argue both for and against the topic, depending on their rounds. Debaters argue either by themselves, often referred to as “going maverick,” or with a partner.

“Debate is a very fun activity,” Holmann said. “You get to talk about issues [and] you get to have discussions of critical thinking and what is best for the world. It’s an activity in which you can learn a lot.”

Nhat Tran ‘19 is a varsity debater who has been debating for three years and believes that debate provides a platform for discussing real-world issues. Tran also believes that debate can be a source of relief.

“I’ve always had an interest in playing the devil’s advocate. It also takes off some of the stress,” Tran said. “I get to yell at people.”

Both coaches assert that there are many advantages to joining the debate team. Benefits include building note-taking skills and acquiring knowledge on how the world works.

“In a world awash with disinformation or misinformation, critical thinking and media literacy skills are the most important thing that we can teach to young people these days. It really asks kids to dig deep into whatever activity it is that they’re interested in,” Woolums said.

The Little Hawk Debate team has already acquired a handful of wins this year on both novice and varsity levels.

“These are maybe the most exciting years,” Woolums said. “We call it the rebuilding years.”

Gartner’s hopes the team of debaters will continue to be successful and continue to learn.

“The most successful debaters take their skills and apply it to whatever they want to do in their life,” Woolums said. “Regardless of wins or losses, if [students] take those skills and use them for bettering society or bettering their lives, they have been successful debaters.”