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PCHS debate club eyes team titles

Sharon Ellsworth-Nielson has seen the change.

When her involvement in the Park City High School debate team began four years ago, there was little enthusiasm for the club. Anything more than 10 students showing up to a meeting was considered a healthy turnout.

But that is rapidly changing. An increase in involvement in the club over the last two years has it flourishing. And if you ask Ellsworth-Nielson, one of the team’s coaches, it’s on the precipice of big things.

She recalled a conversation a few years ago with PCHS principal Bob O’Connor in which he wondered what the debate team had to do to start competing for region and state titles. She had a simple answer.

"I told Bob that a trophy is inevitable if enough kids come along," she said. "Because they have what it takes. Give them the experience and they’ll do that."

This year, more than 30 students have been active in the club, with more students showing up at each meeting. And while those who participated in previous years typically placed well, the club for the first time has the numbers to challenge for team titles.

Much of that is due to finally having students take part in the policy event. There are many points to be had in that event, points which PCHS has foregone simply by being unable to compete in it. That meant winning team competitions was a virtual impossibility.

But no more. Members Robbie Allison and Dylan Wolfe took first place in the novice policy event in the Beehive Bonanza held over the weekend at the University of Utah, in which more than 800 students from around the state competed.

Competing in the policy event is a big commitment, as students dig deep into a single topic and debate it throughout the year. And now that the PCHS debate team has a formidable policy team, the titles may follow.

"This is intensive work," Ellsworth-Nielson said. "And it’s kind of a lifestyle. You can’t force a kid to do policy. The right kid has to show up. And the right kids have showed up."

But the policy team isn’t everything. Ellsworth-Nielson says the entire team is strong throughout. Katie Kelley returns after nearly winning an individual state title last year and competing in Nationals. And the club’s officers help coach members to ensure the lineup is strong top to bottom.

"It’s starting to snowball," Ellsworth-Nielson said.

Apart from the competition, Ellsworth-Nielson said there are other reasons students join the debate club. Namely, it prepares them for life.

"The skills they learn will help them in every job interview, every heated argument with a family member, every aspect of the rest of their lives," she said. "I think these are life skills. Their career trajectories can change because of what they learn in debate."

Isabella Canada, a 10th grader, agreed, saying the life skills are what make debate enjoyable. Her mother encouraged her to do it, and though Canada was reluctant at first, she’s discovered passion for it.

"I got pulled into it," she said. "But I really enjoy it. I like the fact that it makes you get educated on the world around you, because if you want to compete successfully, you have to know what’s going on. It’s an outlet for talking out issues that you feel you need to talk about."


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