Great Debate

Federal Way High School’s Speech and Debate Team has a long tradition of winning tournaments, but people who’ve been on the team say the experience they gain is much more valuable than any trophy.

The team is coached by teacher Lois Gorne, who, for the past 25 years, has been teaching speech, drama and leadership at Federal Way High School. Twenty years ago, in 1981, Federal Way’s debate team won its first state championship. Since that time the school’s teams, in competition against up to 60 of the state’s largest high schools, have won 10 more first-place championships. The team has placed second four additional times.

Wade Craig was a member of the first championship team back in 1981.

“It involved competitive speaking tournaments every weekend or every other weekend throughout the whole school year,” Craig said. “The ability to speak comfortably in front of a roomful of people has proven invaluable and has opened a ton of doors for me. In doing training, in doing presentations or reading in front of a church congregation, public speaking is the greatest fear of most people. After two years of Gorne’s class, it’s not a problem for me.”

Federal Way junior Stefan Ducich has been on the current Speech and Debate Team for two years. Like many of the other participating students, he finds it a demanding and engrossing experience.

This year, he’s been presenting a humorous script that contains six characters – two females and four males – in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

“The difficult part is to convince the audience that I am each of these different people,” Ducich said. “I use position on the stage, body posture, speech patterns, content, accent and mannerisms to portray and differentiate each person, since no props or costume changes are permitted.”

Federal Way’s Speech and Debate Team is an after-school activity open to sophomores, juniors and seniors. It appeals to those students who want to explore a wide variety of skills in drama, public speaking and research in literature and current issues.

“There’s usually 35 or 40 students on the team. Most of them sign up quarter after quarter for two years, though I have some students who are in their third year,” Gorne said. “It teaches them life skills that are so important no matter what they do.”

On most weekends between October and March, the team is participating in tournaments.

Some of these are local, but most are not. For example, late last month four team members traveled to Salem, Ore. to compete in a Willamette University Tournament. The team returned with eight individual trophies.

Students compete in eight different individual events.

Two are original events in which students research and write their own material. Two are based on current events, in which students must be well versed on a variety of state, national and international issues. Four are interpretive events, in which students interpret the author’s intent in plays, stories and poetry by the development of single or multiple characters.

Each of these events is a maximum of eight minutes long.

In addition, there is Lincoln/Douglas, a 45-minute debate between two people. In that event each person has a chance to present his or her point of view on a topic, answer the other’s questions, and provide a rebuttal to the other’s argument. During tournament play, each person takes both sides of the question during successive elimination rounds.

This is student Kim Palumbarit’s second year on the team. She specializes in the Lincoln/Douglas event and expository speaking. At the Willamette competition, she took first-place honors in the Lincoln/Douglas and had a fourth-place finish in expository speaking.

Other contest winners were Laura Brown, first-place in oratory and second-place in expository speaking, Rachel Platt, third-place in oratory, and Melanie Carter, second-place in Lincoln/Douglas.

Carter and Palumbarit also earned top speaker awards, with Carter finishing fourth and Palumbarit finishing first.

Despite her strong finishes in other events, Palumbarit favors the Lincoln/Douglas competition.

“The Lincoln/Douglas event gives me a chance to argue, while expository increases my presentation skills,” Palumbarit said. “I am learning how to present my ideas fluently and accurately while remaining poised. It’s a great way to learn communication skills.”

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