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C O V E R   S T O R Y

First Annual National Home School Debate Tournament
October 3-4, 1997

     PURCELLVILLE, October 3-4, 1997—On a sunny autumn weekend, just as the leaves were just beginning to change colors, 16 home school high school teams from eight states and one Canadian province gathered in northern Virginia to participate in the first annual National Home School Debate Tournament.
     Sponsored by Home School Legal Defense Association, the tournament’s purpose was to provide home schoolers with a formal means to learn and exercise analytical and oratorical skills to the glory of God.
     Tournament organizer, Cedarville College senior, and varsity debater, Christy Farris said, “Finding a tournament location and hotel space for 70+ debaters, coaches, and parents was a challenging task.” She finally nailed down Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville, Virginia. Because Promise Keepers was being held the same weekend in D.C., every hotel within an hour-and-a-half drive of D.C. had been booked full months and months ago. In what can only be described as another miracle, the Ramada Inn in Leesburg, just 15 minutes from Purcellville, found room for the whole debate crew. HSLDA rented two 15-passenger vans to shuttle people back and forth between the hotel and the debate site.
     Closely assisting Christy were Cedarville debater Heather Smith and HSLDA intern Matthew Duffy. Many other HSLDA staff and local residents (even a Virginia state delegate) volunteered their own time to help with a myriad of details—from serving as judges, driving shuttle vans, and setting up to running errands and taking photos.

Let the Debate Begin!
     On it’s surface, high school debate may seem less intimidating than college-level debate, but the tournament was still an intense and exciting time for every participant. After studying and practicing for months, these young people won their respective state debate tournaments and qualified for the national tournament. This was the big event they’d been anticipating.
     At 5:00 p.m. on Friday, October 3, the first round of the National Debate Tournament began. In eight classrooms of the Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville, Virginia, two teams sat facing the judge and an audience. Each debater took his turn at the podium, presenting his case, cross-examining his opponents, and offering a rebuttal to the opposing team’s arguments.
     As the tournament progressed, the tension grew. Winners were not announced after the individual debate rounds, rather scores were cumulative through the sixth round, on Saturday, after which it was announced which eight teams would advance to the quarterfinals.
     Although this was the first year of debate for these young people and most, if not all, were nervous, the judges were impressed with these products of home schooling.
     “This debate lived up to the high expectations I’ve come to associate with home school students,” said Mike Farris, HSLDA president and finalist judge. “Their parents obviously did a great job in providing a comprehensive academic background. Their debate coaches showed skill and creativity. The state organizations did a great job in hosting the qualifying tournaments. And the debaters applied what they learned with real diligence.”
     “As a judge,” noted HSLDA attorney Scott Somerville, “I was delighted to see how all the years of home education came together in one event. The debaters were intelligent, informed, and most importantly, had integrity. I have taught logic to a number of people, and have little tolerance for sloppy thinking or cheap shots. It was a delight to judge teams who would not stoop to either.”
     Other judges agreed. “I was very impressed with the character of the debaters and the depth of their argumentation and analysis,” said Mark Weaver, semi-final judge and former high school varsity debater. “Even though this was their first season—and a short one at that—the quality of the debates was often on par with that at serious high school tournaments.”
     At the conclusion of the day, after progressing through quarterfinals and semifinals, the two teams who would be competing for the championship were announced: Texas Team 1—Katie Ellis and Sarah Palacios, and Georgia Team 1—Dan Jones and Emily Smith.
     Deborah Haffey, coach of Cedarville College’s champion debate team since 1987, judged in all the rounds up through the final round. After expressing surprise that “young beginners could put that much into it and excel so quickly,” Mrs. Haffey complemented the home school debaters. “I saw round after round of debate that compares well with beginning debaters at the college level.”
     She added, “I was very impressed with their level of poise, with the theory that they had to have to know what they were supposed to do in every single round and in every single speech. They understood the structure of the hour and fifteen minute [debate round]—who was supposed to speak next and what was supposed to happen next. They didn’t just know those things—they understood them and it just seemed to flow well the entire weekend.”

The Final Round
     BOSTON, October 11, 1997—The final teams flew to Boston for the championship debate, one of the highlights at the National Christian Home Educators Leadership Conference. It was held during the Saturday luncheon in front of 400 home school leaders from 44 states. The judges were HSLDA president Mike Farris, Bob Jones University debate coach Dewitt Jones, and Cedarville College debate coach Deborah Haffey.
     Christy Farris introduced the debaters, gave a brief explanation of why debate is important, and outlined what would happen during the round. Then, the teams went at it. Several times, the tension in the room grew thick, especially when Georgia 1 (the negative team) defended the United Nations. During teams’ preparation time, the whole room was filled with loud whispering, as the audience argued among themselves about what they were hearing in the debate.
     At the end of the round, the crowd gave the debaters a standing ovation. When the judges completed their scoring, Mike Farris stepped up to the microphone and announced that, by a 2-1 decision, Texas 1 had won the round and become the 1997 tournament champions! The audience applauded again as Mike and Christy presented Katie Ellis and Sarah Palacios with their first place trophies.

Looking Back
     How did the champion team prepare to debate? Katie Ellis explained, “We spent a lot of hours at the library. Sarah pulled a lot of stuff from the Internet and we were able to conduct personal interviews in Washington, D.C., after the national debate tournament.”
     Sarah Palacios added, “We had eight students [in our area] who wanted to debate, so we had many practice rounds and group discussions with our coach.”
     What did the winning debaters learn? “I’ve learned to look at issues from both sides, not only from the side which we believe in,” noted Sarah. “And to prepare a logical argument to debate the beliefs we have. Also, it allowed me to practice my public speaking.”
     Katie agreed, “I’ve learned to think more logically, to express my opinions more easily, and to speak more comfortably in front of a large audience.”
     How did they become partners? “We’ve been best friends for about four years,” Katie said. “We met through basketball. When we got the information about the debate tournament, we decided to be partners.”

Debate’s Message to the World
     What does this event say to the public at large? Mike Farris believes that this opportunity for home educated young people to sharpen their thinking and speaking skills shows the watching world that home school families are achieving their goals and turning out an excellent product.
     On a recent nationwide broadcast, Mike said, “At the first [national] home school debate tournament last month, I saw 32 home schooled students debate each other like veterans. Most of them didn’t even know what a debate was a few months before the national tournament. Most of them were coached by their parents who had never formally debated. Again home schoolers have proven that you don’t have to be an expert to teach your children.”