Room 413B isn’t one many students have stepped foot in. When they do wander in, they witness a room buzzing with professionalism, but not without laughter. Dozens of state trophies and plaques litter the room, dating back to the year 1950, the two most recent being from this year. At the very end of the fourth floor hallway, past two sets of wooden double doors, past the teacher’s lounge, hides the debate room: home to the best debate team in the state of Kansas.
This season, Varsity Debate placed first and second at the 6A State championship for the second consecutive year. Seniors Bhavish Dinakar and Spencer Mitchell brought home first place, while Will Bledsoe and Nathan Paris placed second – both teams ending up as nationals qualifiers.
The teams’ trophies now sit amidst the chaos of 413B. The room is symbolic of the personality that the team embodies: competitive, successful and fun. It’s hectic to say the least– students rush from their seats to head debate coach Trey Witt’s desk and back. Tables are often piled with evidence files and research materials for the current policy debate discussing domestic surveillance. Two decorative plastic penguins, the team’s mascots, sit on one of the shelves, observing the madness with a plastered smile.
Their success, Witt emphasizes, is not all the program has to offer the students. He believes that a genuine love for the activity, while gaining skills beneficial in the adult world, is just as important as earning another first place trophy to add to the collection.
A part of the enjoyment of debate results from befriending new people from places all over the country through out-of-state tournaments. Senior and nationals qualifier, Bhavish Dinakar, has one friend from “basically every school” in the state of Kansas, as well as several other states, that he’s met over the years through debating.
“[It’s good to know other debaters because] you never know when you might need some evidence, or some file that someone else could help you out with,” Dinakar said.
According to debate president Isabel Holloway, the reason the debate team has been so successful year after year is thanks to their coach, Witt. He practices a “hands-off” teaching style, one that is very popular among students. Instead of being hyper-involved and constantly critiquing, Witt encourages upperclassmen to help and mentor the novice-leveled freshmen.
“It can be a lot more encouraging to hear something as a freshman from a sophomore or junior because you are almost to their level,” Holloway said. “Witt is so under appreciated. He’s such a good coach and mentor for debate and forensics. I wish more people knew.”
Witt believes this year’s national qualifying group shares one quality: their work ethic. Outside of enjoying their time in the debate room, their ambition will drive them to compete in several out-of-state tournaments throughout the spring in preparation for this upcoming summer.
“They are very intrinsically motivated, spending a ton of time working over the summer and throughout the season,” Witt said. “They have to have a love for debate, because you wouldn’t do that if you didn’t have a love for it.”
That motivation leads the team to hold one practice debate each week, where they work with one of their coaches after school to improve their speaking skills and factual evidence. For the researching aspect, students find evidence for their arguments using Google Scholar and other databases.
“I think people know about our success but they don’t understand how much work we put into it, particularly the ones who do so well,” Holloway said. “The state champions are really underappreciated.”
Senior Will Bledsoe hasn’t always been one of the top debaters in his division. He didn’t stand out his freshman, or novice, year, and started at the same level as most of the other freshmen. He rose to the top through his commitment to the activity.
“Anybody can be good at debate,” Bledsoe said. “It’s a willingness to put in effort and enjoy it. I wasn’t super good my novice year, but I liked it a lot, so I learned how to get better.”
To Witt and the experienced debaters, the benefits of sticking with it are endless. Confidence. Speed-reading. Speaking. Intelligence. These are all skills that benefit students in the real world, whether that be at a job interview, or speaking in front of co-workers.
“Debate is one of the more relevant classes to the real world here at East,” Witt said.
When the seniors graduate and leave high school debate behind, they hope the success they leave at East continues for years to follow.
“In past years, people were discouraged and thought that because [past teams were] so successful, they had to live up to those expectations,” Holloway said. “This year, I saw so many people who were just happy to be there, whether they won or lost.”
Though many students never have the opportunity to witness the debate room’s overwhelming, loud environment during their four years, the team doesn’t mind. They are more focused on preparing for nationals and working towards more state trophies while participating in something they love.