Less than two days after receiving their diplomas and a slew of congratulatory well wishes at Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center, a quartet of University High School graduates boarded a plane to Texas in hopes of debating their way to a national title.
Deven Coffey, Maiya Jeffers, Conner Sabin and Jordan Welter have taken their intellectual mettle, research skills and oratorical expertise to the National Speech and Debate Tournament this week in Dallas, representing the Titans and the Greater Spokane League in a venue that is as competitive as any playoff football game ever contested in the Lone Star state.
Sabin, Welter and Coffey are returning for their second appearance at nationals after making the trip to Kansas City, Mo. last year. The event includes over 3,000 of the top prep debaters from coast to coast.
University debate coach David Smith said qualifying for the prestigious tournament two years in a row is “truly extraordinary.”
Deven Coffey, a recent graduate of University High School (shown here with his parents Todd and Jenna), is one of four Titans competing in the National Debate Finals in Dallas, Texas this week. Fellow seniors Maiya Jeffers, Jordan Welter and Conner Sabin are also representing University at the annual event...
“I am looking forward to this week and expecting good things from all four,” Smith said.
Coffey, a national semifinalist last year, will be participating in the “congress” category this year, a competition that resembles the soliloquy that a senator or representative might present when lobbying on behalf of proposed legislation.
“The whole goal is to get your point across as eloquently as possible,” Coffey said. “The topics are very relevant in that they are the same issues being discussed in the U.S. Congress at the time.”
Jeffers, who has participated in the state debate finals the past four years, is participating in a classification known as “dramatic interpretation,” in which competitors present an excerpt from a short story, play or novel.
Sabin and Welter are a team in the “public forum” bracket consisting of debates over topics of national importance. The format is similar to televised roundtable discussions featuring politicians and pundits who take sides on a variety of timely and often-controversial issues.
Sabin, who joined the debate squad as a sophomore and this year was named third-best senior at the Red Lion Debate Luncheon, said one of the myths about debate is that it revolves around little more than well-organized verbal quarrels.
“Arguing doesn’t always equivocate to winning,” he said.
Sabin said involvement in debate – the season starts in the fall and features events throughout the school year – has helped him in advanced placement classes and served as a stepping stone to college. He will attend Willamette University in Oregon this fall where he will be part of the debate program.
Coffey, who will attend Washington State University and major in engineering, launched his debate career as a junior and quickly established himself as one of the top competitors in the area. Last year, he became the only first-year participant to win the celebrated Foley Award as the state’s top debater. Like Sabin, Coffey says debate has had a positive ripple affect on his approach to academics.
“It teaches you a lot of good study habits,” he said. “You’re able to sift through a lot of information at a fast rate.”
Welter participated in football, wrestling and track before moving over to debate and says the most common stereotype of debaters is “that we are nerdy.”
As for the frequent imbalance of attention emphasis between debate and sports, Smith said the Central Valley School District makes it a point to keep academic and athletic programs “on an even keel.”
“It’s a common problem at most high schools and in most school districts, but it’s not a problem in the Central Valley School District,” he said. “Students at University tend to be as proud of their debate team as they are of any of the other competitive activities.”
Smith applauded the school’s senior class of debaters for “pulling together to help themselves” after he was sidelined by an accident and missed over two months of the season.
“They essentially ran the program,” he said. “This is truly a spectacular senior class.”
Want to help?
The University High School debate squad is working to cover the costs of attending the National Debate and Speech Tournament in Dallas this week. Tax-deductible donations can be made out to: University High School debate team and sent to the school at 12420 E. 32nd Ave., Spokane Valley, WA. 99216. For more information on how to support the team, call 228-5245.