Political satire comes to entertain Park City
Politics and world affairs aren’t usually too high on a teenager’s list of priorities. But for senior John Garrison, those issues are up there. Garrison has participated in debate since middle school when he actually started running the debate team with his friends because it was dying out. "I just always wanted to express my thoughts and ideas," he said. "And I love politics."
According to Jenny Rae McKenna, Park City High School 10- and 12-grade English teacher and new coach for the debate team, there are about 40 kids involved in the team. The season runs for about six months and they must travel for every event. "We’ve never hosted a debate at the high school," she said. "That’s our goal for next year, to hold one here."
When you combine all that traveling and entering 10 to 15 tournaments a season, you’re left with quite a hefty bill. "Tournaments cost a lot of money," Garrison said. "Just to send two people to nationals last year, it cost $500."
To raise money, they didn’t want to do something generic like a car wash, Garrison said. So, after putting their politically-driven heads together, they came up with what else a mock presidential debate.
"We’ve never done anything like this before," McKenna said.
Garrison said they were just trying to think what they could contribute. "We wanted something that would showcase everyone’s unique talents," he said. And what better way than political satire.
Participating in the event on the Democratic side are PCHS students John Popiel as Hillary Clinton, Charlie Sisk as John Edwards, and Patrick Paterson as Barack Obama. On the Republican side are students Sean Livingston as Mitt Romney, Justin Altman as Rudy Giuliani, and Tyler Needham as John McCain.
"There will be serious questions, but it will be entertaining," Garrison said. Senior Tom Kirchenheiter, who also started debating in middle school, said that while the debate will be done in a satirical way, the students have read up on presidential candidates’ ideas and it should be insightful.
The mock debate is scheduled to take place on Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. The cost is $5 for students and $7 for adults, but according to senior Patrick Paterson, it will be worth it. "The debate will be simultaneously enlightening and comedic, and I hope that people will have a good time and learn something," he said.
McKenna said she is really enjoying her first year of coaching because of kids like Paterson and Garrison, who are also her instructional teaching assistants in her debate class. "They’re absolutely invaluable, helping in the classroom and being good role models for the students," she said. "It’s such a fun group of kids to work with. They’re interested in political and world affairs and care enough to do their research."
Doing their research is actually one of the most challenging parts, said McKenna. "In the age of the Internet, these students have access to so much information, and they have to discriminate if sources are valid." she said. "It heightens their awareness."
Matt Nagel, the previous debate team coach, and the team’s senior students have been helping McKenna in learning the debating ropes. Students must pass McKenna’s debate class in order to join the debate team.
"Debate is really an essential component to learning how to be leader," she said. "It’s a great way of shaping students’ communication skills and learning how to negotiate facts and opinions."
Paterson joined in eighth grade because of his interest in current issues. "I wanted an extracurricular activity that accommodated those interests," he said. He usually participates in Student Congress, just one of many debate events that PCHS competes in. He said now his favorite part is just hanging out with friends at tournaments.
Kirchenheiter, who participates in Public Forum (see sidebar), agreed. "My favorite part of the debates is the downtime when you’re just hanging out with friends and having fun," he said. "But there are rounds when you’re way into it."
Tournaments usually last for at least two days, but during each day, the students are only debating for about one to one-and-a-half hours, Garrison said. Students can sign up to participate in tournaments. "If we get 20 people to go to a debate, that’s a good turnout for us," Kirchenheiter said.
Having a good turnout at the Dec. 13 mock presidential debate is important for the team, and not just because of the funds needing to be raised. It’s just the first step of many in order to expose more people to what debate is and its benefits, said McKenna.
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