August 20 2012 by Stefan Bauschard
Two St. Mary’s High School debate team members finished fifth at the Forensic League National Speech and Debate Tournament in Indianapolis.
Alexa Jakusovszky and Jake Keuhlen won as partners in the Public Forum Debate category, winning $1,500 scholarships.
It’s no easy feat, considering more than 130,000 high school students in the U.S. competed in speech and debate events this year. More than 3,500 competed in the Forensic League nationals in June. The St. Mary’s debaters went up against 245 teams from 50 states in their category, notes Dave Camous, head forensic coach.
“It’s like that old Gene Hackman basketball movie. These talented and smart kids from a small school in Colorado Springs rose to the occasion,” Camous says.
Jake and Alexa won six preliminary rounds, and then aced another 14 rounds. The winners, who went 16 rounds, were two competitors from the private Harker School in San Jose.
The Forensic League event is held in different venues across the country, but this year, it was held at Indiana’s Ben Davis High School in Indiana. Ironically, it was at that school in 1975 that Camous placed 13th in the same event as a participating student at San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Prep.
“Our team certainly upped the ante,” he laughs.
Camous, a corporate trainer, has been coach at St. Mary’s for seven years, most of it as a volunteer. He started the extracurricular program at St. Mary’s when his daughter was a freshman and he noticed there was no debate program there. “I knew how debate had taught me life skills, how to analyze information, write and speak with confidence. ”
The program has flourished, and now has about 25 members. St. Mary’s had a particularly strong team this year. Two other St. Mary’s debaters, CameronHickert and Rosie Wayne, won first in state competition in public forum debate. Jake and Alexa had won third place. Micaela Heery won first in the state’s Lincoln Douglas debate category.
“At the national level, the competition is very tough. But we did very well,” Jake says.
He and Alexa, who both graduated in June, were more than ready for the challenge.
Jake joined the debate group as a freshman, and Alexa as a sophomore. Alexa said she had joined because her best friend Rosie was on the team. “She’d be gone all day Saturday and there was nothing to do. So I joined, too.” And, she adds, “I’ve always been criticized for arguing, so it was nice to have a venue where I am supposed to be doing it and get medals for it.”
Jake said he had not done so hot in the first two years, but kept at it. “The main reason is because our team has such a spirit of being one big family. They were encouraging.”
But it wasn’t until junior year that both really found their voices by becoming debate partners. Rosie had suggested to Alexa that she try public forum category and that Jake might make a good partner.
Their styles complimented each other. “I would never have thought to put them together, but magic happened,” Camous said. Alexa is intuitive and passionate in her arguments, and Jake is analytical and knowledgeable.
Jake says, “I have a tendency to come across as overbearing and she would be calmer and more direct.” Alexa says it was tough to focus on the 500 pages of briefs they had to research in preparation for the competition.
“Everyone was so talented,” she said of the national competition. “I was feeling intimidated. Jake calmed me down, saying “‘just think of this as any other tournament.’”
The national event is the largest academic competition in the country, Camous says.
The Lincoln Douglas competition is more philosophical in nature, and Public Forum competition uses more logic, facts and figures — and takes on controversial issues.
“It is ripped right out of the headlines,” Jake says.
This year’s topic was based on the shooting case of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
The public forum question was this: “Resolved, stand your ground laws are a legitimate expansion of the doctrine of self defense.” Alexa and Jake had to be knowledgeable about both sides of the argument. Depending on a coin flip at each round, they either had to defend or dispute the issue.
Alexa noted that every Saturday from October through March they went to various competitions. “We’d leave at 6 a.m. and be back at midnight. During the week, I would put more in forensics than in school work.”
Jake will attend the University of Colorado at Boulder, studying physics and engineering. Alexa will attend Lewis and Clark College in Portland. She hasn’t chosen a major.
Alexa says, “I feel blessed we did so well. The hard work was worth it. It showed the effort our coaches put into it. And we brought something home for the school, the last time we were officially associated with St. Mary’s.”
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I regret that I wasn't able to watch this debate live because I am really excited about the way these students reason out to prove their point. I am a debater as well during my high school years and we even went on to be national champions as well. It's amazing how much you can learn from events like these.
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I have watched this debate competition live and it was indeed a heart-stopping event to say the least. You would really be impressed at the way both teams made statements and defended their cause. One of these days these individuals would make great public speakers.
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That tandem is a real force to be recokned with when it comes to debate. Their school has molded them well, especially when it comes to competing in the national scale. I won't be surprised if these students will soon be making waves in the international scene.
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This is their best chance of getting themselves ready for becoming a lawyer if they want to. Debates like this can help improve your ability to speak in public. Only those gifted with good speaking ability can excel in this area.
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They were able to step up during crunch time and this is what really made a huge difference in their team. These debates can be nerve-racking especially when the debate draws closer to its end and it requires nerves of steel for those participating in it. They did an excellent job bringing home the bacon for their school.
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The school did an excellent move of pairing Alexa and Jake. Their chemistry and debating skills were exemplary and this allowed them to make it to higher rankings. This is an excellent honor for St. Mary students and its administration.
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When someone will want to hire a leader, they will surely think about Jake and Alexa. It's stunning how they managed to beat so many students from 50 states. This is what someone who never gives up must look like, I would have surely wanted to meet them.
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Students really rocked at the nationals and i hope to see them doing more things at the coming events.
Planet Debate | Blogs - St. Marys students argue their way to 5th place at nationals
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