Dawson School Students Sweep State Debate Competition; Head to National Invitational
High School students from Alexander Dawson School in Lafayette headed to California on Friday to compete against 250 of the best speech and debate teams in the country.
Dawson, a private school located on Colo. 287 south of Longmont, has become notorious for its highly-awarded 40-student speech and debate team.
Dawson students just swept the state speech festival awards, held Jan. 27. Pairs of Dawson students took the top three spots in the public forum debate and third, and fifth places in Lincoln-Douglas debate.
Kaitlyn Lucas, a Frederick High School student, was the only other person from the St. Vrain Valley area to place in the competition — third in the one-on-one value debate and fifth in the Lincoln-Douglas Debate.
Ten students from Dawson’s team are at the 2018 Cal Invitational, held at the University of California, Berkeley.
Team captains Sean Costello, 18, and Ben Dietsch, 18, are also partners in the two-on-two public forum debate competition. Costello and Dietsch placed first in the state in the public forum event.
Berkeley will be Deitsch’s fourth national speech and debate invitational and Costello’s second. Dietsch said that the Berkeley competition is one of the more prestigious in the national debate circuit.
“You don’t get anything but if you win, you’ve won Berkeley and it’s an accomplishment to do that because there will be something like 250 teams there. It’s a huge event with some of the best debaters in the country,” Deitsch said.
Deitsch also said that the Dawson team will be showcasing their signature Colorado debate style at the invitational.
“Really you could draw a map of how people debate and figure out where they’re from,” he said. “We like to say there’s the coastal regions and those are the real national circuits. It’s kind of a different style of debate. When we go out there, people can tell we are from Colorado because we debate differently. We use different techniques, we use different language and we speak quite a bit slower.”
Costello added that the east coast debaters sometimes speak so quickly, that specialized judges have to be brought in. By contrast, Colorado-style debate is designed so that either an expert in the subject or the average layperson could understand it, Dietsch said.
The high school speech and debate competitions differ from what most people think of when they think of a debate -- a presidential debate.
Competitors have a month to fully research a topic. On the day of the competition, a coin flip decides which team will argue for and against a resolution. Teams must then make points based off of either logic or evidence.
Dietsch and Costello said that this format helps students understand every facet of an issue, whether it’s the prospect of independence for Catalonia (the topic for the state competition) or whether the U.S. should abolish the capital gains tax (the Berkeley invitational topic).
“There’s a quote that’s like unless you can argue both sides of a topic, you don’t know it well enough to argue one,” Dietsch said. “And I think that’s absolutely true. You can’t make a reasonable and informed decision or even an analysis of something if you don’t know both perspectives.”
Costello said the format can help debaters overcome prejudged biases about a topic.
“I think it just helps to recognize that all the perspectives on an issue are valid, which for some topics, you know, you weren’t sure that the other side had valid points at all,” Costello said.
Gregory Hansen, a Dawson middle school history teacher and one of three debate coaches for the high school team, credited the other coaches and the students with Dawson’s success on the state and national stages.
Hansen said that coaching debate involves helping the student develop their argument.
“The job is to help flesh out an argument when a student comes to you and says how they want to argue one side or another and then allowing them to explore their answer and understand what they’re trying to say,” Hansen said. “It’s helping them craft and understand and flesh out their own opinions on the topics.”
Karen Antonacci: 303-684-5226, email@example.com or twitter.com/ktonacci