Debate team participates in MSHSAA districts


Abby Kempf

Members of the RBHS debate team relax before competing at MSHSAA districts. Photo by Abby Kempf
Fifteen speech and debate students piled onto a bus early in the morning Saturday, March 15, and traveled to the Missouri State High School Activities Association speech and debate districts, a destination they’ve looked forward to all year.
All of the students’ efforts culminated in one moment as they prepared to debate and perform at districts, which decided their fate in the upcoming state competition at the University of Missouri-Columbia, April 26.
State qualifiers were sophomores Wendy Zhang and Zoya Khan in policy debate, senior Sara Ashbaugh in extemporaneous domestics, freshman Alli Foster in storytelling and senior Maaz Muhammad in extemp internationals.
But their jubilee was not assured at the beginning of the day. Students walked into the competition with stomachs full of nerves and excitement.
“I’m excited for this opportunity to perform a piece I’ve been working on for a long time with Mrs. Coffield,” sophomore Neil Cathro said before the contest. “I’m passionate about this piece and hope I do well.”
Cathro’s piece was from the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for the dramatic interpretation category. While some competitors like Cathro were at their first districts, other students were returning for a second or third year. Seniors Whitney Cravens and Ashbaugh, who recently qualified for the National Forensic League National Competition, competed in public forum debate.
“I’m excited for my last MSHSAA competition,” Cravens said. “But it’s nerve wracking too because we want to do better than we’ve ever done before at MSHSAA.”
Debate teacher Jennifer Cone, though, was confident in her students’ success because of their strength in numbers.
“We were the only school at districts that every single possible category was filled,” Cone said. “Everything that you could bring, we brought.”
Cone was correct. Khan and Zhang were selected as policy debate finalists. In individual events, Cathro, Foster and Ashbaugh in oratory and extemp domestics, Muhammad in extemp internationals, and freshman Max Schafer in radio speaking, all advanced to finals. Finals decided who would qualify for state. Only the top two or three students, depending on the number of entries in the category, would pass on to the state level.
As Cathro walked into his finals room he prepared to endure the gut-wrenching pieces that dramatic interpretation promised. The pieces usually consisted of tears, screaming and suicide. But Cathro’s piece was a little different.
Sophomore Neil Cathro performing his piece The Perks of Being a Wallflower in the final Dramatic Interpretation Round,.
Sophomore Neil Cathro performing his piece The Perks of Being a Wallflower in the final Dramatic Interpretation Round. Photo by Abby Kempf
“My piece is subtler. It’s sad, but it’s not so over the top and in your face,” Cathro said. “Judges either really like that or really don’t.”
After Cathro finished what he said was his best performance that day, the verdict was in. These judges did not pick up on his nuisances.
Cathro received fourth place, keeping him from traveling to state. Foster, however, pulled it off and received first place. She has won first in her signature storytelling category at every competition she has attended this year, except one.
“I can’t believe I won. I honestly didn’t expect it. I had a great time at all the competitions this year, and I’m really glad that I still have one more to go,” Foster said. “I’ve learned so much and made so many new friends. I’m honored that I was chosen to represent my school doing something I thoroughly enjoy.”
Some made it and some did not, but districts weren’t everything for the debate team. RBHS had a season that saw them take home countless first place trophies. They also won sweepstakes multiple times. Besides the tangible medals and ribbons, students gained priceless life skills throughout the competitive season.
“I think I’ve become a much better speaker, and competing in public forum a lot has really improved my debating skills this year,” Cravens said. “We’ve debated a lot of really talented teams, and I think I’ve improved as a debater as a result.”
By Abby Kempf