Park City High School debate team crafts a winning argument |

Park City High School debate team crafts a winning argument

(From left) Caitlin Silianoff, Isabella Canada, Abi Kretschmar and Liz Cantlebary are four of the veterans on the Park City High School debate team, which is performing better than ever. The team has won two competitions this season, and those involved say they have a chance to bring home a state title in March. (Bubba Brown/Park Record)

A few years ago, Bob O’Connor, principal at Park City High School, issued a challenge to the school’s debate team: We’re going to give you the resources to compete, so you have to bring home a state title.

The gauntlet thrown down, coach Sharon Ellsworth-Nielson and the rest of the team got to work.

Three years ago, the team comprised about 10 members. The club is about 70 strong now. And the team’s performance has seen a similar bump. It has won two of its five competitions this year after finishing third in the state last year.

At long last, the goal of winning a state title is within reach.

"It’s completely attainable this year," said Ellsworth-Nielson, who teaches debate at the high school. "There is no reason why we shouldn’t come home with a trophy. You get a trophy for first place and second place. And there is no reason, given our preparation, the depth of our team and the commitment of our members, why we should not bring a trophy home from the state competition."

Ellsworth-Nielson said the team’s preparation has been key. The team has paid more attention this year to making sure practices are efficient and effective, and more experienced members have taken younger students under their wings. The result has been a well-balanced team that has its share of top performers, but good competitors rounding out the entire roster.

"With other teams, they might have some stars, then just people they’re bringing along to fill the bus," she said. "Us, we’re trying to build a program where everybody is contributing. And because it’s going to be close at region and state, that one point that the youngest team member earns could be the difference."

For the students who have been part of the team for more than one year, the progress has been encouraging. Gone are the days when the team simply hoped to place among the top — this year, it’s expected.

"It’s a really cool feeling for the team to realize that’s an actual attainable goal this year," said Abi Kretschmar, a junior who has been on the team for three years. "It’s been fun to watch our progression throughout the season and seeing us win our first competitions."

Word of the team’s success has spread quickly through school. Junior Liz Cantlebary said debate is getting a reputation as a "cool thing" to be a part of. She hopes that only leads to more success in the future.

"People think it’s a really great team that does really well," she said. "It’s becoming more popular than even some of the sports. It’s become a thing where people want to be involved, and they’re not afraid to say, ‘I’m a debater.’"

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