On the surface, a week in the life of Josh Bennion seems typical of a student. The Sky View High School senior stays busy doing homework, reading the news, and making time to hang out with friends. However, during the school year Bennion’s week really begins on Thursday night, when the nationally recognized debater starts cramming case studies, trying to his lead team to a tenth straight state championship.
After a mock debate and more cramming, a good chunk of the 85 students who make up the Sky View debate team will board a bus and spend their weekend traveling across the state, and sometimes across the country, to do what they do best. Talk.
“Let’s face it, debaters spend their weekends going to a random school, not eating anything, getting very little sleep,” Bennion said with a smile. “We waste our weekends arguing about things that are going on in the world. There’s no coolness factor. You can be yourself.”
For Bennion, who will make an appearance at the National High School Debate Tournament later this month, being the co-president of team who has championships that span nearly a decade isn’t about winning. It’s about continuing a legacy of knowledge.
“We have a great mindset,” he said. “You’ll get out what you put into it…we have that underlying idea that if you work hard, you will win”
This year, the Sky View team has traveled to both sides of the country making trips to Idaho State, Arizona State, and Columbia University in New York. For Coach Matthew Gillespie, the hardest part of being a debate coach isn’t watching his students lose, but watching them succeed, only to be taken down by lack of funding. This year 8 students qualified for nationals, but only 3 will be able to go, a fact he calls “heartbreaking”.
The National High School Debate Tournament will be held June 13-18 in Dallas Texas. In addition to Bennion, who will compete in Domestic extemp, Andi Tonnies will compete in dramatic interpretation and Daniel Judd will compete in humorous interpretation.
Tessa Kunz has helped coach the team for more than a decade. Watching the team through successes and failures, she said the team is a family environment.
“What makes us different is how many people have taken ownership and made this happen,” she said. “The students own the team as much as I do.”
At the end of the 2010-2011 debate season, the team lost 30 seniors including a student body president, a senior class president, the valedictorian, salutatorian, and more than half of the 4.0 scholars at Sky View. Every year Sky View High School recognizes distinguished alumni. More than half of the award recipients have come out of the Sky View debate program.
“The really high class students who go far in life come out of this team,” said Gillespie. “Debate will teach you a greater useful skill set than about anything else you can think of.”
Unlike other sports or activities that span a few months, debate doesn’t end after a big win or even a championship. It’s season lasts most of the school year, and each tournament requires different preparation. Gillespie, who has helped coach the team for three years, has seen firsthand the dedication of his group of 15 to 18 year-old debaters.
“Instead of like a basketball game where two schools come and play a game, maybe go into over time and then they’re done, we literally have 200 events going on simultaneously. It takes an enormous amount of preparation to run a debate tournament.”
Rachel Gantz, co-president of the team next year, said the team has opened her eyes to what’s going on in the world. Gantz went to nationals last year.
“It can bring your education to a different level. You can apply everything you know to debate and excel in it. It helps you in every possible way,” she said.