East debate: a nationally-ranked program of 100 or so students who come together and present arguments at tournaments. In other words, senior Casey Owen’s dream. So when East administrators told him his transfer prohibited him from debating at East, he emailed representatives from the Kansas State High School Activities Association in hopes of being able to compete with East’s squad.
But when a student transfers schools without his family actually moving houses, KSHAA rejects a student’s eligibility to play sports for eighteen weeks because they would be viewed as a debate recruit, a strategy known as “school shopping.”
“The tricky thing is that debate is co-curricular, so there’s an academic element to it,” debate teacher Trey Witt said. “So I think that’s why it’s frustrating, because if the KSHAA rules prevent you from being able to compete, that in turn kind of prevents you from being able to take the class.”
Nonetheless, Witt still enrolled Casey in his class. Like the rest of his students, Casey would learn researching and examination techniques, the only difference being his inability to participate in tournaments.
But Casey knew he had to compete. Reciting 400 words a minute and researching controversial topics every day was a constant in his life that he was not ready to give up. In fact, it is his passion.
But without a team, Casey realized his progress was going to hit a dead end. He thought his transfer would aid him in moving forward and let him compete with the squad at East rather than SM South’s.
“At South, there was an issue with people who were willing to put in as much work as I was willing to put in,” Casey said. “So I wanted to transfer to East because there would’ve been a better chance for me to do what I want in debate.”
Because of his ineligibility, Casey looked for a plan B. Since he was already registered at East, turning back was not an option. So from 6:00 p.m. to 8:50 p.m. every Wednesday night, he meets 15 other students at the Johnson County Community College (JCCC) to debate.
The debate class at JCCC focuses on preparing students for a four-year university education. Through learning debate theory, debate skills and methods of becoming successful intercollegiate competitors, Casey and his classmates prepare for higher-level competitions than those of East’s.
“We have individuals that debated for four years in high school, we have high school students and we have individuals who are brand-new to debate,” JCCC debate coach Justin Stanley said.
Every student enrolled in the class is a member of the school’s debate squad, which is the top community college debate squad in the nation. Through September and March, they travel to Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada, Utah and North Carolina where they compete to defend their ranking.
Not only is Owen presented more traveling opportunities he wouldn’t have otherwise, but he will also receive three college credits for the course and a sneak-peek of what his next four years might look like.
“I think college debate is something that even our varsity kids work toward,” Witt said. “And he’s already doing that style of debate right now at JCCC.”
And that style is something Casey hopes to advance in his next four years. Looking at the University of Kansas (KU), Casey hopes to join his brother there.
Mason Owen, Casey’s older brother, debated at South for four years and now debates at KU. As Casey was entering high school, Mason did not want to force his interests on his brother, but he didn’t need to. Freshman year, Casey decided to take up debate at South on his own.
“As soon as Casey joined the team,” Mason said, “I really took the initiative to try and make sure I could provide him enough resources so that he could start learning about different mechanics of argumentation that he might not receive on his own.”
Despite the difficulties he’s faced caused by his transfer to East, Casey’s still been able to pursue his passion — debate.
“At least I know that when I go to college I’m not going to have issues with figuring out what to do,” Owen said.