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  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: Birmingham-bound

  • Eight Pittsburg High School students made history Saturday as they left for the National Forensic League National Speech and Debate Tournament in Birmingham, Ala.

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  • Eight Pittsburg High School students made history Saturday as they left for the National Forensic League National Speech and Debate Tournament in Birmingham, Ala.

    Those participating in the national competition are: Garrett Brummitt and Taylor Cronister, policy debate; Ethan Hawn and Joseph Mathew, policy debate; Bryan Stebbins, congressional debate - Senate; Haley Uttley, original oratory; Jason McDonald, foreign extemporaneous speaking; and Mcauley Windsor, humorous interpretation.

    “We’ve never sent this many kids to nationals before, and our policy debate teams are the first ever from PHS to quality for nationals,” said Julie Laflen, PHS forensics and debate coach.

    Also going along is Alex McNay, 2011 PHS graduate and former nationals qualifier, who will serve as a judge at the competition.

    “Alex is the only one of my students who’s broken into the top 60 at nationals,” Laflen said.

    There are those who might give her the credit for the accomplishments of her students, but she prefers to point that finger right back at the young people.

    “When I started here four years ago I had a group of kids the who worked to make this program what it is now,” Laflen said. “Those seniors who graduated this past year really paved the way and were great mentors to the younger students. I hold them to a high standard, but they hold themselves to a higher standard.”

    The students have been working and preparing all year, and even longer, to qualify for nationals.

    “After policy debate season was over, I told Mrs. Laflen that I wanted to qualify in original oration, so we started working on it,” said Haley Uttley, who will be a PHS junior in the fall. “I was a first alternative qualifier last year, also in original oratory.”

    Her oration topic is censorship — she’s against it.

    “You have to be careful what you ban,” Uttley said. “Just because a view is different from yours, you shouldn’t take it out of the picture.”

    To qualify for nationals, a student must place first or second at an NFL qualifying event. The NFL debater qualifier this year was hosted by PHS, but Uttley had to go to Augusta for her event. She placed second, and a girl from Derby placed first.

    Page 2 of 3 - “I’ll be rooming with her at nationals,” Uttley said.

    The policy debaters have been practicing and researching in preparation for their event.

    “Every week we come to the school and Mrs. Laflen will make us debate against each other to make sure we keep at the top of our game,” said Joseph Mathew. “We also keep looking for new evidence.”

    The official debate topic is “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.”

    “It basically covers everything,” Ethan Hawn said.

    He and Mathew have narrowed down the topic and come up with an affirmative argument on an issue that has gotten little attention but is potentially devastating — avulsion of the Mississippi River.

    They explained that river avulsion is the process of a river in a delta switching its main channel to a new one.

    “Every 1,000 to 1,500 years the Mississippi will move,” Hawn said. “If it moves now, 200 miles of wetland will be lost and all the port cities will be completely decimated. The Mississippi River will be completely unusable.”

    Back in the 1950s Congress charged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop the river from switching its main channel.

    They accomplished this by building the Old River Control Structure, and Hawn and Mathew will argue that more work is needed now to keep the Mississippi flowing as it is.

    If they’re debating on the negative side, a different strategy is needed.

    “We can take broader negatives we can apply to an affirmative that we aren’t familiar with,” Hawn said. “We would base our arguments on the opening statement made by the affirmative.”

    Bryan Stebbins, a 2013 PHS graduate, is competing in Congressional Debate - Senate, in which students debate bills and resolutions.

    “Everyone writes legislation and sends it in, and the people at nationals choose what best fits the tournament,” he explained. “They send out the legislation, and you can debate on all or some of them.”

    Page 3 of 3 - While regular debate has two two-member teams slugging it out, congressional debate has many more participants.

    “Here in southeast Kansas we usually have 12 to 18 in a room,” Stebbins said. “At nationals there are 24 in the room and you are debating against the other 23. You try to get the best score in the room, and it can get pretty competitive, pretty intense.”

    The conference will run from Monday and conclude Friday, with the PHS contingent due to head home on June 22.

    “They will compete for three days,” Laflen said. “They compete two days in their main event, and there’s a supplemental event planned for those who don’t break into the top 60. They will have all kinds of opportunities to meet kids from all across the country and other countries as well. These are your future lawyers, CEOs, senators and presidents.”

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