Evansville Courier & Press

No Argument Here: North Debate Students Make History

By Anne Schleper
Published on February 19, 1999

ON FEB. 6, DIANA MOERS and Josh Claybourn brought home an old, revered trophy that has traveled throughout the state but never has been in Evansville.

Moers, a junior, and Claybourn, a senior, both of North High School, won first place in policy debate at the Indiana State Debate Tournament at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. The large silver traveling trophy, now displayed in North's trophy case, records teams that have won the policy debate championship since 1928. No school south of Indianapolis has won the trophy since 1941, when New Albany debaters won.

Moers and Claybourn defeated last year's state champions from Chesterton High School in Chesterton, Ind., in the semifinal round and then defeated debaters from Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., in the final round.

Last Saturday, Moers and Claybourn also won the policy debate competition at the Hoosier South district competition sponsored by the National Forensic League. They will go to Phoenix June 14-19 to compete for the national trophy.

But their victory at the state tournament was the most gratifying, Claybourn said.

"There's tougher competition at the state because the entire state is competing," Claybourn said.

For district competition, the state is divided into four districts, and the competition isn't as fierce, he said.

The topic for the policy debate this year is "That the United States should change its foreign policy toward Russia."

For policy debate, Moers and Claybourn had to debate both the affirmative and negative sides and provide concrete evidence to support their arguments.

To prepare, the debaters spent hours in the library and at home, reading newspapers and searching on the Internet for the latest facts to prove the points they make during the debates.

"We're constantly on the computer because we have to get the most recent information and evidence and keep up on what's going on in Russia," Moers said.

Not all the judges are debate coaches or foreign policy experts; some are "normal, everyday people," Moers said. "You have to be able to make your side make sense to them. You have to be very persuasive, no matter which side you take."

The topic is chosen by the National Forensic League and is debated by high-school debaters throughout the country during the school year.

After this year's topic was revealed last year, Moers and Claybourn teamed up and began basic research, including who the main players are and some of the problems in Russia.

But, to stay current, much of the evidence is collected right before each tournament, Claybourn said.

For the state tournament, Moers and Claybourn debated eight rounds, five for the affirmative and three for the negative.

Once they reached the final round, the pressure was enormous, Claybourn said.

"We had 100 people, including some of the best debaters in the state, watching us," Claybourn said.

Claybourn got involved in debating during his freshman year.

"I couldn't think of an extra-curricular activity that better prepares you for life after high school.

"Debate helps you develop self-confidence. When I'm asked to give a speech now, I don't have pits in my stomach," said Claybourn, who plans to attend Indiana University to study business next year.

Moers and Claybourn give credit to their coach and teacher, Marlissa Hughes, for their victories.

"She's the reason we won state and district," Moers said. "Debating is a lot different from anything you've ever done, and it can get confusing, but we've been fortunate to have a really good coach."

Hughes, who has been speech and debate coach at North for eight years, said Moers and Claybourn had a good work ethic.

"They went to debate camp in the summer, and they've analyzed what it takes to be good debaters. They not only have knowledge, but they both have a special skill in communicating what they know," she said.

The North team's motto is "Carpe Diem" (Latin for "Seize the Day"), she said.

"The team focuses on doing the best they can do rather than concentrating on beating another team," she said.

Hughes, who participated in debate as a student at Reitz, said she learned a lot about being a successful coach from her high school coach, Bob Brumley.

After the state tournament, Moers and Claybourn were emotionally and physically drained, Moers said.

After two rounds on Friday night, the two debated from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Saturday.

"You don't have time to eat and barely have time to sit down," Moers said.

On the way home, they stopped for a bite to eat, but then slept in the car all the way home.

"It's every debater's dream to win the state tournament," Moers said.

Jami Cates, a junior at Reitz , was state champion presider in the Congressional debate.

In the debate, participants debate bills just as the bills are debated in the U.S. Congress, Cates said.

As presiding officer, her responsibility is to "run" the Congressional debates, to determine who gets to speak and for how long and to make sure the rules are followed.

"I especially enjoyed the final round because everyone really took the debate seriously," she said.

The third category in debate is Lincoln-Douglas debate, where teams of two debate in the style of the historical Lincoln-Douglas confrontation.

The North debate team finished fifth in the state competition. Reitz finished 10th. Other North members are Evan O'Donnell, Crystal Reutter, Jessica Starke, Ellen Small, Randy Waters, Emily Angle, Emily Kendall, Ashley Taylor and Courtney Butterfield.

Other North national qualifiers at the district competition include Randy Waters and Ellen Small of North in policy debate. Paul Musgrave and Tiffany True of Reitz are first alternates, and Tim Head and Daniel Tweedall of Central High School are second alternates.

Alisha Gaddis of Reitz, who placed second, and Amartya De, first, of Harrison High School are national qualifiers for Lincoln-Douglas debate at the national finals.

Evan Hart of Reitz is first alternate, and there was a three-way tie among A.R. Taylor, Emily Angle and Courtney Butterfield, all of North, for third alternate.

* * *

REUNION: Members of the Castle High School class of 1985 are planning their 15th-year reunion for the year 2000.

If you are or know of a member of the class, please contact Anita Horn by e-mail at alhorn@earthlink.com or by phone at (202) 293-3613 or by mail at 1327 21st St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.

If you have a suggestion for "Neighbors," call Anne Schleper at 464-7525 or (800) 288-3200, Ext. 525, or e-mail her at annie@evansville.net.