When five award-winning members of the Payson High School speech and debate team go to the National Forensic League's Speech and Debate Tournament in Portland, Ore. June 11-17, they'll take with them a dedication and attention to detail that belies their years.
The students spend every spare moment of every day studying publications like the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and the New York Times, preparing for their competition events:
Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Extemporaneous Speaking, Student Congress, and Policy Debate.
Matt Williams, a junior who qualified for the national tournament in Extemporaneous Speaking, Student Congress and the Lincoln-Douglas Debate, said the judges look at the debater's ability to speak using gestures fluidly and conversationally. They also judge on the mastery and knowledge of the subject, the speaker's ability to use humor and emotion, body language and attitude.
"Last year I didn't have a suit," Williams said. "My shirt was untucked, my hair was a mess."
When he failed to win against the competition, Williams invested in a suit and paid more attention to his appearance. He's racked up a long list of awards since he made that investment.
The speech and debate team owes its beginnings to one of its senior members, Aspen Gorry, who was in the eighth grade when he convinced his father, Wayne Gorry, to start the debate team.
The senior Gorry had debated in high school and college and coached a debate team at Chandler High School. He is a former state champion and was a successful debater at Arizona State University.
His son also has proven to be a successful debater and will compete in Lincoln-Douglas debate, which deals with moral issues, at the national tournament.
Ryan Davis, who got interested in debate as an eighth-grade student at Rim Country Middle School, said, "I always enjoyed informal vitriolic debate in class. When I first got started, I got pummeled at tournaments and that wasn't very much fun. Then we started winning, and the enjoyment I derived from the activity increased in direct proportion."
Wayne Gorry said his team is successful because members practice, both independently and together, critiquing and cross-examining other team members.
Gorry said team members must have an interest in politics and spend a great deal of time reading.
Williams said that what started out as an extracurricular activity has changed his life.
"Speech and debate has made me better academically and changed the way I think and the way I manage my time," he said.