Debate [dih-beyt] a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers.
Amarillo—A time-honored academic event is getting new life at Holy Cross Catholic Academy.
For the first time since the 1990s, when the school was known as Alamo Catholic High School, the form of debate known as Lincoln Douglas debate is being offered at the school, according to Father Robert A. Busch, Ph.D., Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Amarillo, head of HCCA and debate coach.
“I was a high school debater and participating in debate really made a big difference to me in my life,” said Father Busch. “It gave me a lot of confidence in myself, it also helped me with research skills, the ability to develop arguments and the ability to be a better critical thinker. A lot of the educational accomplishments in my life I can attribute to participating in debate in high school.”
Holy Cross has participated in debate tournaments this school year at Caprock, Canyon/Randall, Amarillo High, West Texas A&M and Friona. During the Friona “Bobsled” meet on Jan. 8, HCCA debaters won three of the four top spots in the novice division. Sophomore Titus Medley won second place and freshmen Ben Bromley and Tino Frausto tied for third. Fourteen schools participated in the meet, according to Father Busch.
The school is also scheduled to participate in debate tournaments on Jan. 15 in Plainview and at a tournament in Hereford on Saturday, Jan. 22.
“It wasn’t too hard to get a debate team started,” said Father Busch. “The first meeting to gauge an interest in debate drew 30 students. As they discovered how much work was involved, many of them decided that they didn’t have the time or it wasn’t what they expected.
“It wasn’t hard to get a group of folks initially interested. The hard thing was getting students to stick with it and actually go to a tournament and try it out and see what it was like.”
Five students make up the HCCA debate team, consisting of three freshmen and two sophomores. One of the freshmen is Burkleigh Henderson.
“I decided to try debate because it looks good on a college application and I like arguing,” she said. “I like to argue because it interests me. I hope to get as far as possible in the debate rounds this year and enhance my skills for next year.”
Logic is what piqued sophomore Teresa Houseal’s interest in debate.
“I like the logic of putting two heads together, trying to point out the other person’s flaws and win with pure logic,” she said. “I hope to improve my argument points. I hope to learn how to argue to see the flaws in the other person’s logic. This can come in handy for my future, with business and with future interviews.
What would be her ideal debate topic?
“Probably something along the lines of animal or environmental rights, because that’s what interests me. I really don’t like politics at all.”
Houseal is also grateful to have Father Busch as her debate coach.
“Father Busch definitely knows a lot more about debate than we do. He’s taking us under his wing and teaching us the basics before we go in. He’s a great coach.”
Freshman Ben Bromley agrees with Henderson that debate would look good on a college application, but said there are other reasons why he’s participating in debate.
“I just wanted to give it a shot, and my parents persuaded me to try this,” he said. “They think the arguing aspect of debate might help.”
Is debate everything he expected?
“No, it’s a lot scarier than I thought it would be,” Bromley said. “You’re going against people that can talk very fast and against people that know a lot more than you do because they have more experience.
“I’m glad that at some of these tournaments there’s been a novice division, so we’re getting an opportunity to compete against people who are new to debate, like we are. That evens out the playing field for us.”
“I want to become a better debater and hone my skills for next year.”
Another sophomore on the debate team is Titus Medley. He agreed with Henderson and Bromley that debate looks good on a college application, but he said being on the first Holy Cross debate team is more important to him.
“It’s cool being on the first debate team at Holy Cross and I think that’s interested a lot of us,” he said. “We’ve never been through this before—none of us have ever been a part of a debate team, so we all just thought that we’d take a shot at it and just do it.”
How scary was your first debate?
“The first debate competition was a lot scarier than I thought it would be, but overall, it was really a lot of fun, it was a good experience,” Medley said.
What’s been the hardest part about debate?
“The research takes up a lot of our time, but whenever you’re in the room by yourself with one other person and a judge, slowing down your thoughts and collecting yourself while you’re debating is for me probably the hardest part,” he said. “So much is rushing through my head and sometimes you don’t know what to say.”
Medley also hopes that Holy Cross begins to build a reputation as a great debate school.
“We hope in the future, that as more students get involved, we’ll be known in the Texas Panhandle, eventually, as a great debate school.”
Going into the Friona tournament, freshman Tino Frausto was the most experienced member of the team, having participated in all four tournaments and finishing as a quarterfinalist at the West Texas A&M tournament.
“I don’t think it’s going to look good on a college application until you actually accomplish something,” he said. “I just want to get this team off the ground, get it started and get it going. I hope we get more people interested and then develop my skills as a debater.”
Another aspect that has helped Father Busch in his role as debate coach has been help from his past connections in debate.
“It’s helped that several of the other coaches in the area are Catholic, and some of them are former students from my time at the Catholic Student Center at West Texas A&M,” he said. “One of my former students, Lacy Venhaus, is the coach at Randall, and she’s been a big help with us getting started.
“When I was studying in college, my major was speech communication and for a long time, I thought about becoming a high school speech coach. Many of the coaches I knew when I was a college student and worked with in my role as director of the speech and debate camp at West Texas A&M are still coaching and they’ve been very helpful with our team.”
Father Busch said there are some disadvantages about fielding a first-year debate team.
“We’re at a real disadvantage because nearly every other school we compete against has a debate class, where they can spend 45 or 50 minutes a day preparing and practicing. We have had to do everything after school or during home room or during the Christmas break. This includes the students learning ‘how to debate."
“For the first few weeks we got together, we were trying to learn the rules of debate, and all that is involved. The easiest thing has been the enthusiasm of the students and their willingness to learn.
“One of the great things about debate, unlike some other activities that we can be involved in—debate is one of those high school competitive activities where you don’t necessarily have to be from a big school to do well, because it is so focused on individuals. You can have an individual from a real small school become the top debater in the area. Some of the winners from the tournaments we’ve participated at have come from small schools. What excites me is that we have a really young team and if they all stick with it, by the time they’re seniors and juniors, I hope that we’ll be seen as a real threat in the area at future debate tournaments. We’re already being viewed by other coaches and debaters as a team to watch out for in years to come, so that’s a good thing.”