National Appearance Awaits OHS Sophomore
Oskaloosa, Iowa – MaKennah Little has found herself in almost uncharted territory as an OHS student. Not since debate teams of the 60’s and 70’s has an OHS student found their way to the nationals in debate.
MaKennah Little joined debate as a way to learn to speak before a crowd, “and not get so nervous about that”.
Some students may join debate as a way to “argue” with others, but it’s a skill that is developed by learning an assigned topic. This topic is called a bill, much like a bill that could find its way into congress. The debate participant then learns as much as they can about that bill, learns to find and cite sources to support or not support their bill.
These bills often touch on current issues such as legalizing marijuana, gay marriage or minimum wage increase, as examples. MaKennah enjoys debating the subjects, and along the way “I really learned a lot by researching” MaKennah adds. “It’s kind of fun just to talk about it with people.”
McKennah most recently debated the minimum wage increase at district competition. Along the way, research into a subject can change one’s mind. MaKennah said that happened to her during the research stage in preparing for district debate. “I didn’t think that was a good idea at first, but then I spoke about it and I thought it was a good idea”, MaKennah said.
The Districts for MaKennah were on March 22nd, and she’s awaiting her subject matter for the National Debate which will be held in June. “Everybody submits a piece of legislation and then it gets sent out to everyone else” explained MaKennah. MaKennah is currently unsure what her legislation will be, and she’s considering her options, having only written one other piece of legislation for debate prior to being selected for national debate, which was the minimum wage bill.
Speech presentation, the content of the speech are important factors in helping a debater attain a high rating. “If you have statistics to back up your argument and it’s not just your own opinion, they [judges] usually value that. Following parliamentary procedure is also a factor in attaining a good rating from judges.
Fellow debaters can then question you after you have presented your opinion on a bill for up to two minutes. This can be a nervous time for the one presenting their opinion, “If you don’t really think about it, you can come up with a response, but if you over-think, then it makes it a lot more challenging”, MaKennah said.
That part of engaging your peers is a factor in the judges’ decision for a score, and played a part in MaKennah moving on to nationals. MaKennah considers the questioning portion of debate as easier for her, “because it’s just easy to find flaws in what other people say and so I can point those out”.
OHS teacher and advisor Jessica Weinreich has been teaching at OHS for the past 6 years, said that MaKennah is really good at delivery, “where a lot of debaters will just throw the facts and statistics at you, and go a mile a minute, she [MaKennah] talks to you like your a real person and puts it into her own words”, explained Weinreich.
MaKennah’s style was described by Weinreich as a “professional casual” way of speaking, where you feel as though you’re talking to a real person and “not someone who just memorized a bunch of facts”.
Weinreich, who had never taught or advised on debate, took up the task when she first arrived at OHS 6 years ago. “I’ve learned a lot with the kids” says Weinreich. With the experiences of both advisor and students growing year-by-year, Weinreich sees the team getting stronger year-by-year.
Benefits to students who participate in debate is found in learning to research. “No one gets excited about research” says Weinreich, “but as they dig into things, they think of research of ‘How can we get the other guys?’, so then it doesn’t feel like research anymore. Then comes that confidence and ability to articulate themselves and confidently stand in front of a group of people and talk back-and-forth about what can sometimes be sensitive issues.”
MaKennah says there is a measure of pressure now to make it to nationals in the upcoming years since she has achieved that level as a sophomore. “I’m kind of nervous for next year”, says MaKennah. “Because if I don’t make it, I’ll feel kind of weird.”
MaKennah will be traveling to Kansas City for nationals for 5 days of debate June 15th-20th.