VHS debate students qualified to compete in international competition

By Melanie Williamson

A team of four Speech and Debate students at Vermilion High School have ranked in the top 64 of an international competition called the International Public Policy Forum. The team, comprised of junior Kennedy Hughes, junior David Dotson, senior Kylie Gwynn, and senior Aaron Vojtus, submitted a position paper to the contest not expected to qualify. Hughes shared, “We were all really surprised because this is a big international competition and we’re such a little school.” Despite this initial surprise, they are ready to take on their competition. Vojtus stated, “Qualifying has given up momentum moving forward, so now we’re really focused.”

Mr. Devon Snook, the Speech and Debate teacher, said they entered their position paper to be entered into the contest several weeks ago. At the time, he presented the opportunity and let them decide if it was something they wanted to do; he didn’t push them. Hughes added laughing that when he first suggested it, their goal was just to get the position paper done before the deadline.

In the first round of the contest, they are facing off against a speech and debate team from Amity Regional High School in Connecticut, and the topic of their debate is greenhouse gas emissions. For each round, the team writing the affirmative side will have two weeks to write their position paper, the team taking the negative side will then have two weeks to write their response. Each team then has the opportunity to write a rebuttal, which they also each for two weeks to do, so each round of the contest takes at least eight weeks.

The Vermilion team was assigned the negative position for this round, and they just received the position paper from their opponent, so they are currently working on their first response paper. The entire contest will run through to April when the top eight teams will compete in New York City.

Snook shared that of the 64 top teams, 50 of them are from the United States. Vermilion is one of only five teams from Ohio and one of the only three public schools in Ohio. This is a large and highly competitive competition, so even making it to the top 64 is an amazing accomplishment.

Members of the team explained that they work on the papers as a team by getting together to brainstorm their approach, and then splitting the total project into sections with each of them taking a section. Vojtus shared that they work really well together, so the process flows easily.

Each of the four team members have participated in speech and debate for more than a year, and they each expressed a strong enjoyment and commitment to speech and debate. Hughes is in her second year and normally competes in Lincoln Douglas. Gwynn is in her third year of speech and debate and normally competes in Congress. Dotson has been in speech and debate for three years and normally competes in big questions, and Vojtus has been involved for four years and competes in public forum.

They shared that a lot of their work on this competition is done outside of normal school hours because Dotson is not taking the speech and debate class this year due to scheduling conflicts. Hughes shared that most of the work is done individually, but they do have to meet several times to put brainstorm, critique, and put everything together. Vojtus also stated they use a Google Doc to share what they have done with each other and to give everyone a chance to provide feedback.

The team is proud of making the top 64 and is working hard to keep the momentum going with their eyes on the trip to New York in the spring for the final live debate.



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