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Valley Journals

Self-motivation, study and experience benefit Hunter debate team

May 08, 2017 04:56PM ● By Travis Barton

The Hunter High School debate team wrapped up its year with a banquet in April. (Hunter debate team)

By Travis Barton | travis@mycityjournals.com

In a sport where some schools have 120 members, Hunter High School’s speech and debate team had 13 students go to region with six qualifying for state and two qualifying for nationals.

And that’s a year of transition for first-year coach Jennifer Liddell.

“It was successful, I mean that was really awesome. Based upon what we took to region, we did really well,” Liddell said. “I don’t have hardware to show off but over the course of the year we did pretty well…We take small numbers but we did well with people placing every time.”

The team saw students place at 10 different tournaments throughout the year. Of the six who qualified for state, Liddell said they had at least one from each grade level.

“In perspective of are we moving in the right direction? Totally. A freshman to go is awesome,” she said.

That freshman was Kaia Baron who, along with sophomore Diana Tran, qualified for nationals in duo interpretation.

“The two of them have just been stellar all year long,” Liddell said.

While both prefer the Lincoln-Douglas category, an individual event, their experience with duo interpretation, where they memorized Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham,” came about with a desire to better utilize their weekend.

“We wanted to try something new. It’s better than to just sit at home for us and be at a tournament where we get to meet new people and get to have that experience,” Tran said.

Taking a free weekend to go to a debate tournament perfectly encapsulates Tran and Kaia, Liddell said.

“They’re academically gifted to start, but I think a lot of it came from their drive to want to,” she said of the underclassmen.

Liddell playfully described Tran as a “stalker” because she would know what opponents were competing in each tournament and what their ability was.

“That helps her know what she needs to do,” Liddell said.

For Kaia, whose aspirations include attending Stanford, she got involved in debate since Liddell was one of her favorite teachers and she knew college applications would look better for it.

“I didn’t expect to like it this much,” she said of debate. “I like how confident it makes me. Before I could barely have a conversation at all with someone, but after doing debate I’m not afraid to express my opinions about certain things.”

Kaia’s appreciation for speech and debate is shared by her classmates. Tran got involved to improve her public speaking.

For senior Sam Nielsen, she initially joined to pave the way for a career in law. She’s since changed her career plans to become an animal shelter marketing manager, but she still “fell in love with debate.”

She competes in the foreign extemporaneous speech where speakers have 30 minutes to research, write and memorize a seven-minute speech. It requires knowledge and comprehension on current events and Liddell considers it one of the hardest events.

“A lot of people don’t actually know what happens outside of the US, and I really enjoy being able to say things that people don’t normally think of,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen started debate in junior high. She’s been to a debate competition at Stanford, previously competed at nationals in Texas and attended the Granite Technical Institute for animal science.

Liddell described her as the “mom of the group. She makes sure everyone is where they need to be.”

Nielsen smiled when she heard that description. She guessed the name came from her having been in debate for a long time and her efforts with fundraisers and scheduling.

“She always tried to help us out wherever she could,” Kaia said. “She was just really supportive of us in everything.”

Liddell said Nielsen once got pizza delivered for the team at a tournament and she’s also earned her graduation cords and diplomas of merit at the school. Nielsen plans to attend SLCC before moving onto Weber State.

“What she’s gotten out of debate and how it’s helping her go to college, she’s come a very long way,” Liddell said.

While Nielsen will graduate from a team of 19 members this year, Liddell said they had to add three people just before region. But next year, she added, they have 75 signed up.

“I want them to have to fight for a spot for the region team cause we’re that cool,” Liddell said of her hopes for the future.

Kaia will be glad to have a bigger team.

“I’m honestly very excited to have that many people. Gives us a really good chance at like state and region to go further,” she said.

It’s a future that needs more people, but also more fundraising to send students to nationals.

“(I want to) be able to travel more. I’m not going to nationals, but hopefully in the future we’ll be able to fundraise more money,” Tran said.

Senior team president Percy Alvarado said debate, a sanctioned high school sport, can be difficult for students to continue doing. He said other extracurricular activities such as sports or theatre where a “whole audience is dedicated to watching what you’re doing,” and applauding or cheering is a strong motivation versus debate where there is rarely an audience.

“Debate is a very self-motivated sport and it says a lot about a person, not to boast about myself, if they can stay committed to it and stick through it,” he said.