Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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1,100 students vie in Sylvania speech, debate tournament

Words were flying Saturday and Friday at Sylvania Northview and Southview high schools, which were host to students from across the state competing in one of the largest speech and debate tournaments in Ohio.

The Sylvania Invitational tournament, held every Martin Luther King, Jr., Day weekend, attracted a record number of participants this year, according to Joe Drouillard, the speech and debate coach at Northview.

He said about 650 competed at his school, 400 at Southview, and an overflow of 50 at McCord Junior High.

"That's about 100 more than we had last year, which was a record," he explained.

The students came from 44 high schools and were accompanied by 300 to 400 adults who were judges and coaches.

The Sylvania event is popular with coaches because it is good practice for the state tournament, which is scheduled for the first weekend in March at Whitmer High School, said Andrea Folsom, head coach at Austintown Fitch High School near Youngstown.

She brought a contingent of 48 students, eight judges, and two other coaches.

"It's a good overnight event for us," she said. "It's nice for the kids to get the overnight hotel experience."

But the real payoff for the students is the speech and debating itself, coaches and competitors agreed.

"Man's greatest fear is speaking before an audience. It ranks higher than death," said Mr. Drouillard. "These kids can get up and talk to anybody. There's a niche here for just about any kid in the program. They'll find something they can do."

The tournament had nine categories in speech and three in debate. It also had an event called Student Congress, in which competitors support or oppose hypothetical bills and resolutions, much as legislators do.

Matt Kohler, 17, a senior at Maumee High School, said he competed in the impromptu speaking category. He drew two quotes from an envelope and interpreted them. One of the quotes, from The Lion King, was "The past can hurt. You can either run from it or learn from it."

Matt said he wanted to interpret it in a way that was not abstract.

"I said we can apply it to our lives by taking the setbacks and hurts and use them to help us grow," he explained.

He credited public speaking with "really inspiring a type of confidence in me that I didn't know that I had. The ability to speak in front of strangers is really not something I knew I had."

Some weighty subjects were analyzed in the debating competition, which was held at Southview and McCord.

Alex Clarkson, head coach of the Southview team, noted that the actual debate is only part of the process.

"In education recently, research has been weakened, and these kids can research," he said.

Also, because the debaters must argue both sides of an issue in different rounds, they learn to respect the beliefs and ideas of others, he said.

Brandon Mader and Nikki Baird, both 16, found themselves debating the wisdom and morality of prosecuting violent juvenile offenders as adults.

Brandon, a sophomore at Jackson High School, near the West Virginia border, argued the affirmative, while Nikki, a junior at Austintown Fitch, spoke "in negation."

Both had argued the other side with other opponents.

Preparing to debate the subject "was a lot of work," Brandon said. "But it was worth it."

"I had to learn a lot about the courts," Nikki said.

Brandon said the camaraderie established among the members of his team was one of the best parts of the debating experience for him.

"I love the bonds that I have with my teammates. I spend so much time working and traveling with them that they become my family." he said.

Both teens have thought about what they want to do in life. Nikki said she was interested in science and cancer and would like to be an oncology pharmacist. Brandon said he hasn't decided.

"I have an interest in business, law, and politics," he said. "I'd like to think about it for a while."

Contact Carl Ryan at: or 419-724-6050.

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