When Debate and Forensics coach Julie Laflen heard funding cuts were on its way for USD 250 schools, she knew her debate and forensics team would be affected.

“Our administration is very supportive of everything we do. They’ve always tried to send us everywhere that they can. Unfortunately with our district being cut from what we were, cuts have to come from somewhere,” said the sixth-year coach. “I was kind of expecting it when I heard that our district was cut so much money and we got the final word from our principal and he’s still trying to find ways to help us pay for it. But at this point, we’re just doing everything we can to fund it ourselves to put a little bit of pressure off the administration when they have so many other things to worry about.”

The debate team who has qualified for nationals — seniors Haley Uttley, Joseph Mathew, Ethan Hawn and Jason McDonald, and sophomore Zach Uttley — has taken it upon themselves to raise money for the 2015 National Speech & Debate Tournament in June.

“I think the situation was initially disheartening, to be honest,” Mathew said. “But I think that I can speak for all of us when I say we’re all determined to meet this goal, because I think the experience that we get at the national tournament is unlike any other convention that we can go to.”

“The national tournament is a really unique experience because it brings you to higher competition,” Hawn said. “You get a greater understanding of what the activity of debate or forensics is like throughout the entire country.”

For sophomore Zach Uttley, this is the first time he’ll be going to nationals. The other seniors have there multiple times.

“I’ve never really experienced it before, so it’s like a new thing for me,” he said. “So I would say I’m extra determined to get there, because I haven’t been there before and I’m looking for that experience, that next level of what I like to do.”

Uttley set up a GoFundMe page — www.gofundme/Pittdebate — and currently they’ve raised $250 of their $4,500 goal.

Another avenue they will try to raise funds at is when they will host their annual forensics tournament on April 11.

“I am letting schools bring whatever they want this year. I am not limiting them to anything,” Laflen said. “So that can be a huge fundraiser for us. We’re hoping to get anywhere from $1,000-$2,000 by hosting that tournament.”

Laflen said the students are also doing a letter-writing campaign asking for donations.

She said they think it’ll cost about $4,000, but that they’re trying to raise $4,500 just to be on the safe side.

“We don’t know final numbers,” she said. “We still have two more tournaments where students can qualify for nationals and so right now we have ... five kids, but we can have more.”

Laflen and the students that have already qualified said they’re expecting more to become nationally qualified.

How the cost breaks down for two teams to take the trip to nationals in Dallas, Texas, includes $840 in entry fees, $1,650 in hotel costs and $840 for meal money from a Sunday through Thursday time period. The total cost as it is right now is $3,330.

“It gets pretty pricey, so anything that we can get will help pay for it,” Laflen said.

The topic the students will be debating should they get to nationals is: “The United States federal government should substantially increase its non-military exploration and/or development of the Earth’s oceans.” The topic they’re currently debating and fighting for is why education shouldn’t be cut.

“It seems to me that when there are such stark cuts to education, things that get cut first are academics, when sports oftentimes are protected from the kind of cuts that I think we may have to deal with,” Hawn said, who plans to continue debate at William Jewell College. “It’s unfortunate because we work very hard doing very intense intellectual academic activity and we’re in a sense knd of discouraged or told that we’re not able to do the kinds of tournaments and stuff that we need to be able to do if we’re going to be very competitive. Also, I think depriving of school resources is just generally bad. Schools need money and when they don’t get money, it’s pretty well statistically proven that they underperform.”

“I don’t think it’s at the fault of our administration or our school,” said Haley Uttley, who also plans to continue debate at William Jewell College. “I think it’s just a lack of state support.”

McDonald plans to continue debate at Kansas State University and Mathew is still undecided about his college destination, but does plan to continue debate as well.

“Now — in the face of reality — these budget cuts really do affect kids locally and I think some people don’t realize that,” Laflen said. “Now they can put faces with kids that this actually is affecting.”

The 2015 National Speech & Debate Tournament starts with registration on Sunday, June 14, followed by preliminary rounds from Monday through Thursday until the main event on Friday, June 19.

“We have gone to nationals every year since I’ve been here,” Laflen said. “The school’s always funded it 100 percent and they’ve always said if the kids qualify for this, we should do everything we can to send them there.”