Two seniors qualify for nationals in the debate tournament

Harsh Singh

Seniors Sara Ashabugh (right) and Whitney Cravens (left) stand for a picture in the debate room after placing fourth at districts and qualifying for nationals. Photo by Devesh Kumar
Seniors Sara Ashabugh (right) and Whitney Cravens (left) stand for a picture in the debate room after placing fourth at districts and qualifying for nationals.
Photo by Devesh Kumar
When 2012 RBHS alumni Syed Ejaz and Rick Flinn participated in the National Debate Tournament two years ago, it was a rare achievement in the school’s history.
However, this year, seniors Sara Ashbaugh and Whitney Cravens followed Ejaz’s and Flinn’s footsteps for a chance to represent the Bruins on the podium at the nationals tournament.
Cravens and Ashbaugh were selected after placing third at the National Forensic Debate District Tournament. Four of 50 teams qualified, and the two seniors debated for eight rounds to be in the top four.
Ashbaugh said they thought they were dreaming after their names were announced to compete at the national level.
“I am so excited to be representing Rock Bridge. I think my partner and I are one of only six teams to ever qualify from Rock Bridge,” Ashbaugh said. “All of the hard work has definitely paid off.”
Cravens said qualifying for nationals not only gives Ashbaugh and her a sense of pride, but it also gives the younger debaters motivation and belief to do the same thing.
“Sara and I are also captains, and we hope all of our first year debaters look to our example and want to do the same thing their senior year,” Cravens said. “I think we have shown that hard work pays off that if you work at it enough, you can excel at the sport of debate. We certainly had a disadvantage coming in from a not very developed debate program.”
Whitney Smith, assistant coach of the debate team and a University of Missouri-Columbia law student, said seeing Cravens and Ashbaugh work so diligently to compete in the nationals was inspiring for everyone on the team. She also said in their preparation, the coaches will be working on fine tuning all of their debate skills and making sure that they get in as many practice rounds as possible.
“Words cannot even begin to describe how incredibly proud I am of Whitney and Sara. In my year and a half as their coach, I have watched them continue to grow and excel,” Smith said. “From a coaching standpoint, it is inspiring to see your students work so hard to achieve their goals. I am so blessed to have been part of this experience.”
While it is easy to get carried away by qualifying for such a prestigious tournament, Cravens said it is necessary for Ashbaugh and her to remain focused on the challenge coming ahead. Ashbaugh and Cravens will try to get in as much practice as possible before the event, which will occur near the end of the year.
“The topic doesn’t come out till May 1, so we will start then,” Cravens said. “We will just do what we always do, and we know other debaters from Jeff City that have qualified, so we will probably do practice debates with them leading up to it, and utilize our team resources, too.”
After reaching a goal they established during their sophomore year, Ashbaugh said it is important for them not to get carried away by just reaching nationals. Their new goal is to perform better than Ejaz and Flinn did in the 2012 national tournament.
“Qualifying for nationals has been my and Whitney’s goal for three years,” Ashbaugh said. “ I couldn’t think of a better way to wrap up my debate career.”
By Harsh Singh