Whiz Kids: The Lakeland District Debate Team that comprises students from Walter Panas and Lakeland High Schools.
Accomplishment: Participating in a rigorous debate season and hosting the annual debate tournament at Lakeland/Panas this Saturday and Sunday.
Key to Awesomeness: These students in grades 9-12 compete an average of 3 to 4 weekends a month between the beginning of October and the end of February.
It is an intellectual sport that takes stamina, dedication, preparation, intelligence and personality, according to Stefan Bauschard, who is the Director of Debate for the Lakeland schools and has been coaching the team since 2004.
“Debate is a ton of work, substantially more than any regular class—plus there is a lot of summer preparation—only the best and brightest students compete,” Bauschard said. “You need to be smart to win and need to be able to work and get along with others.”
He explained that the debate team is open to anyone and meets after school to prepare for competitions. There are three levels: novice, junior varsity and varsity.
On March 3, Lakeland students will host a tournament that attracts debaters from more than 50 schools from New Hampshire to California, with local families offering their homes to the 400 visiting students.
Brandon Cohall, a senior on the debate team said that he really likes the travel, the camaraderie and the mental stimulation that the team has provided him.
“I enjoy how debate stimulates your mind,” he said. “During each hour-and-a-half debate, your mind is constantly racing, trying to keep track of opponent's arguments as well as coming up with your own arguments and using them in a strategic manner.”
He said a favorite topic for him was debating President Obama’s policy toward American troops in Afghanistan. Hearing the issue discussed on the radio and television made him feel more intrigued to form coherent arguments to support his (and the team’s) position.
“With practice and coaching, I have been able to learn how to analyze information quickly, develop cogent arguments, and prepare rebuttals— and in the process, I have overcome my dread of public speaking,” he said.
Bauschard said the skills that these students are gaining are important life skills: online research-organization for supporting ideas and arguments, critical thinking, speaking and leadership.
Brandon’s mother, Renee Cohall, is happy her son is able to balance his athletic pursuits as a member of the Panas baseball team with this academic endeavor.
“I would really recommend this to other families and we are glad to have a debate team in Lakeland,” she said. She added that students even in ninth grade can put debate into the ninth period class slot for class grade and credit.
Priten Shah, the team’s captain said the team of 30 students is especially tight-knit. “It is a competitive sport, but we all really support each other, I just love it.”
The tournament this weekend will be held at on Saturday, March 3 and Sunday, March 4 from 7:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.