The great debaters: Two CCHS students overcome the odds and qualify for debate nationals
BY MATTHEW FERMAN
When someone thinks of debate, they usually think of political debates between presidential candidates or other members of major political parties. Never do they imagine high school students debating about real-life topics. However, here at Cooper City High School, debate holds a different meaning for senior Gabby Heinlein and sophomore Spencer Shweky. To them, debating is a form of art. These two students have turned themselves into prized debaters, qualifying for Debate Nationals in Omaha, Nebraska over Memorial Day weekend. Both Heinlein and Shweky have worked hard to reach this point and neither of them plan on putting their success on hold at the national level.
“It takes a lot of hard work, commitment, passion, and dedication to be a good debater,” Shweky said. “You basically have to be prepared for anything at any given time. You never know what a debate can throw at you.”
Shweky’s contest is known as Extemporaneous speaking, Extemp for short. In Extemp, competitors draw different current event topics from which they select one and have a 25-minute time period to prepare a 7-minute speech on the chosen subject. The competitor must be extremely knowledgeable in current events and must use this knowledge to prepare the speech for competition. They are allowed to use a box that contains different sources of information on various current events. This is used to aid them in their preparation.
“Before competition, I do my best to make sure that my box is loaded with articles from the past month,” Shweky said. “By doing so, I know that I have the proper information to do my best in competition.”
After spending his first year in debate observing and learning, Shweky feels he is ready to make a name for himself on the national level of debate competition. He has worked his way up the ladder, starting out by competing in various local tournaments. These regional competitions led to his participation at the 2010 state tournament in which he placed 5th. His standing was enough to qualify him for the prestigious national tournament.
Heinlein also worked hard to reach her level of success. Although Heinlein is now a Cooper City Cowboy, she spent her sophomore year at Ft. Lauderdale High School. Ft. Lauderdale High School is a pre-law based school. The course work requires students to take a certain amount of legal classes; therefore, she was “thrown” into debate and took it as an opportunity to find her niche. It was in this manner that, she learned how to master the art of debate, especially in her favorite category.
Heinlein’s contest is known as Lincoln Douglas. In Lincoln Douglas, competitors debate in a one-on-one format about morally based topics, such as hate crimes and capital punishment. Competitors must be prepared to debate both sides of the topic (affirmative and negative) and must do so to the best of their ability during the 35-minute round.
“Basically, we need to have extensive research on certain philosophers and their ideals to do well in this contest,” Heinlein said. “We have to write multiple cases and be prepared for the opponent’s rebuttal. It can be really challenging at times, but I love a good challenge.”
Like the great debaters they are, they both go into each and every debate with a certain strategy.
“I like to keep the mentality of knowing you have won before it even starts,” Shweky said. “If you have a stacked box with tons of information, you can beat anybody. I also try to be confident during my speech and smile at all times.”
Heinlein takes a different approach.
“I try to get in my opponent’s head,” Heinlein said. “My goal is to throw them off their game and be as aggressive as possible. That way, they may fluster their words and their point and when they do, I go on the attack.”
It is clear that these strategies work as they continue their debate success in Omaha. The hard work that both Heinlein and Shweky have put into debating just proves that hard work and dedication will always prevail.