Ketchikan High School’s Drama, Debate and Forensics team is heading to Sitka for its first meet, scheduled to be held Friday and Saturday.
Two of Kayhi’s most experienced team members — third-year debater, co-captain and junior Henry Clark, and third-year debater and senior Jared Valentine — sat down to talk about the uncoming season alongside newcomers and freshmen Kamryn Craig and Anna Otte on Monday afternoon.
This year, there are 28 Kayhi students in coach David Mitchel’s debate classes, ranging from freshmen to seniors, Mitchel wrote in an email. He added that there is one fourth-year debater and seven third-year debaters, noting that half of the students are returnees. He said he expects a very strong group.
A big change this year, he added, is that Metlakatla will have a team entered in the meets.
When asked why they had been motivated to be part of the team for so many years, Valentine and Clark had a few ideas.
“I just like it because it’s fun, to be honest,” Clark said. “I’m decent at it, but mostly it’s just fun to do. You do a lot of sports sometimes, and you feel really nervous about doing them, but I’ve only ever felt excited to debate, I’ve never felt nervous. To me, it’s just like a lot of fun. It gets your adrenaline going, but it’s academics”
Valentine said, “For me, I think flying and taking ferries from place to place is super unique to specifically Southeast Alaska. Pretty much nowhere else in the U.S. gets to do it.”
He added that, also, DDF is “another way to go on more trips with friends.”
Craig said she decided to jump into DDF to reach more long-term goals.
“I wanted to do debate because I thought it would be good skills to take on in life,” she said.
Otte said, “my sister did it when she was in high school, and she said it was a really good class and it gave you a lot of social skills”
The most challenging parts of competing in DDF has a lot to do with building confidence, the students agreed.
Valentine said, “Initially — I mean you definitely get over it — is the anxiety before your first time speaking, and before your first debate and before your first speech, you just get really anxious, you’re not completely sure what you’re heading into.
“You know, with sports, you see sports broadcasted and you can see what’s goes on, but with debate you pretty much have no idea,” Valentine continued. “We have a coach, and we have a team and a room, and he teaches us, but you can’t really be prepared enough until you’re actually — you can’t experience it until you’re actually at the meet in your first debate. And, so, it’s really difficult getting over that initial hurdle because it’s not something you’ve ever seen before or have been a part of before.”
For Craig, she said the most challenging aspect so far as a debate team member has been “just trying to get into the mindset of the older people, that they’re here to help us.”
The group laughed and she continued, “so, they’re not really there judging you, they’re like, helping.”
Clark said his core challenge has been that he often feels nervous that he hasn’t done enough research.
“Every year, I always feel like I should know more about the subject we’re talking about,” he said. “You always spend all this time researching it. You get to a point where you think, ‘I’m pretty sure I know everything’ and then you read another article and you’re like, ‘What?’ You always feel like you need to know more about what you’re talking about, because you’re afraid, at least for me, I’m afraid I’m going to say something that’s completely false and I’ll get called out on it, so I spend so much time reading over every single piece of information that I can find.”
He added that, although he felt very comfortable speaking in front of audiences after spending his childhood performing in many First City Players productions, he found it a bit of an adjustment to learn how to figure out how to get the prodigious amounts of debate class homework done, among all of his other commitments and classwork.
“It helped me think clear, and organize everything I was doing,” he said. “I really think that debate is one of the best classes you can take in high school. It helps with your thinking, your speaking, your writing, it helps with, like, everything.”
Otte said her biggest challenge has been to learn how to not only write out her speeches, but to learn to recite them.
“I think, like, writing the speeches, that took a lot of time and it was kind of difficult because we never had to read our speeches that we wrote in middle school, so we just would write it and it wouldn’t make that much sense and they wouldn’t say anything, so it’s a lot different,” she said.
The students shared what they thought were the most useful skills to hone on the journey to becoming an excellent debater.
Public speaking is a difficult skill for many people to learn, Valentine said, and “when you join debate and you develop it and you refine it, it’s pretty much the biggest skill that you’re going to need in debate. Just being able to fluently speak and collect your thoughts.”
Craig said she thought an important skill for a DDF competitor was “memorizing stuff. To memorize and to be able to talk to people.”
Clark said a very useful skill, besides a confidence in public speaking, is fluency in analytical thinking.
“There’s a lot of people that you meet that are really great — they talk well, they speak well, they’re super formal with their gestures, they look all nice and stuff, but they just don’t always have the mindset for it,” he said. “They’re just always so square when they think, or they don’t know how to argue about certain things, and so it’s not like they’re really loose and fluid when it comes to arguing, and so I think it’s just that mindset of like, being able to think about what your opponent’s saying, or just being able to listen to what they’re saying. Not just speaking, but the listening part’s really important, and a lot of people don’t catch that.”
Valentine added that the fact that each debater has to argue both sides of the issue makes things more complex.
“You don’t know what side you’re going into until the actual start, like 30 seconds before the round starts, and so when you find out what side you are, you have to rewire your brain and you have to start arguing against arguments that you would have made in a previous round,” he explained.
Craig said a fun part for her as a new team member has been watching her more experienced teammates.
“It gives you a way to see how you should react, in a way,” she explained.
She added, referring to the beginners fear of public speaking, “it’s getting over that hurdle,” is the tough part. “You just have to take that chance at getting over that hurdle, and then it’s pretty easy going from there.”
Otte said the more experienced people have given her that same message: It’s going to be stressful at first, then “when you actually get over with the first meet, then everything’s going to be good.”
She added that she’s learned that it’s good for DDF competitors to have a healthy stress reliever, such as going for a run.
This weekend’s DDF meet will be held Friday and Saturday in Sitka, and the topic of debate will be “The protection of anonymous speech outweighs the harms.”
Kayhi’s DDF program is unique among many of the schools in that it is offered as a for-credit class rather than an after-school club.
Valentine and Clark said they will perform some drama pieces, as well as participating in debates at the Sitka meet.
The upcoming meet, like all first regional meets, will not be a competitive event, but more of a warm up for later meets, according to coach Mitchel. In addition to debates, speeches and drama performances, Friday will include workshops and trainings.
When asked what they’d tell new students who were thinking of joining the DDF team, yet were unsure, Valentine had some wisdom to share.
“My first year, I had a lot of anxiety about public speaking and things along those lines,” Valentine said. “I had a whole speech on it.”
But, someone told him that changed his entire outlook, he said.
“What somebody told me,” he said, “is that ‘nothing good comes from comfort zones.’ And, so if you’re scared about something like that, and you want to stay in this comfort zone where you don’t have to worry about talking to people and you don’t want to step outside that cozy boundary, once you do, those good things will come to you, and if you stay hidden away and avoid those, just because you’re scared to do it, you’re not going to progress as a person, you’re not going to develop character.
“The benefits are just unbelievable,” he said.