BHS Sending Four to Nationals in Debate

Brentwood High School seniors Jon Duffe (left) and Austin Koster will compete as a team at the National Speech and Debate Association's championships on June 14-19 in Dallas. (Photo by Steve Bowman)
Brentwood High School seniors Jonathan Duffe (left) and Austin Koster will compete as a team at the National Speech and Debate Association’s championships on June 14-19 in Dallas. Koster has been to the NSDA nationals twice before and he and Duffe have been a team for two years. They hope the experience pays off. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Duffe-Koster and Mayfield-Saunders to face best in U.S.

By Steve Bowman
Editor, The Brentwood Spirit
email: bowmansj@sbcglobal.net

In an era when youngsters are under pressure to specialize, to be great at one thing instead of good at several, Jonathan Duffe might have a lesson for us all: Do everything you love to do, and if two of your interests end up conflicting with each other, it’s not the end of the world. Make the tough decision and hope for the best.

In Duffe’s case, the best came. This spring, as a senior on the Brentwood High School speech and debate team, he was named the best debate student in the entire eastern half of Missouri. Also, this month he and three others at BHS will go to Dallas to compete in what’s considered the Big Dance for prep debaters: the U.S. championships of the National Speech and Debate Association. He and senior Austin Koster will compete together in the public forum debate category, as will the duo of senior Cole Mayfield and junior Seamus Saunders.

Senior Cole Mayfield (left) and junior Seamus Saunders score high enough at the NSDA district meet to qualify for nationals. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Haug)
Senior Cole Mayfield (left) and junior Seamus Saunders score high enough at the NSDA district meet to qualify for nationals. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Haug)

Hoops or debate?

Duffe’s success came only after he was forced to make a tough decision.

Four months ago he was on both the varsity basketball team and the speech and debate team at Brentwood High School. That’s two to four games a week, practice every afternoon and debate tournaments on the weekend. Somehow he was managing it — not only winning at debate but one of the top three scorers and rebounders on the basketball team.

Jonathan Duffe is introduced before a game this past season. He was one of the Eagles' starting forwards. (Photo by Steve Bowman)
Jonathan Duffe is introduced before a game this past season. He was a starting forward for the Eagles. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

He had wanted to be on both teams as a junior as well, but the district tournaments for debate and basketball fell on the same days and the basketball coaches, he said, told him to choose one or the other, not both. He chose debate.

But for his senior year, BHS had a new basketball coaching staff. He asked them if he could play. With a good chance of there being no conflict between the two tournaments, they gave him a green light to join the team. It worked out well until the exact scheduling for the two tournaments was announced. There would be nights when he was double-booked. Once again forced to choose one or the other, he chose debate.

“It was an unfortunate situation where the days were the exact same,” he said. “It was not something we expected. The debate district tournament was an all-day thing for three days.”

Duffe said he felt bad for leaving the basketball team in the lurch with the postseason approaching, but he said he got nothing but support.

“My friends and the coaches all supported me and respected my decision,” he said. “They knew how involved I had become in debate and how important and prominent it was to me.”

Jonathan Duffe shoots against Maplewood-Richmond Heights.
Jonathan Duffe shoots against Maplewood-Richmond Heights. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

Decision pays off

Duffe’s decision was vindicated by his performance with Koster at the National Speech and Debate Association’s Eastern Missouri District Tournament in March. In a field of 50 duos in public forum debate, they were one of only four to qualify for the NSDA’s national tournament in Dallas. Mayfield and Saunders made the cut as well. Duffe and Koster also qualified as individuals in extemporaneous speaking, but students are allowed to compete in only one event, so they chose public forum debate.

“The NSDA district tournament is a marathon of rounds for over 12 hours a day from Thursday through Sunday,” said Robyn Haug, Brentwood’s debate coach for the past seven years. “It is an accomplishment just to survive districts. Qualifying to nationals is something only the top 1 percent of students from around the country are able to do each year.”

Brentwood High School's debate coach Robyn Haug between Julianna Nikodym (left) and Cierra Lucas. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Haug)
Brentwood High School’s speech and debate coach Robyn Haug between Julianna Nikodym (left) and Cierra Lucas. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Haug)

Four other BHS students made it to the final rounds at district: senior Cierra Lucas in original oratory, senior Alex Patton in humorous interpretation and senior Julianna Nikodym and junior Megan Shipley in public forum debate.

BHS winners at the MSHSAA state championships are (from left) Alex Patton, Jonathan Duffe, Austin Koster and Da'Jah Mosley. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Haug)
BHS winners at the MSHSAA district championships are (from left) Alex Patton, Jonathan Duffe, Austin Koster and Da’Jah Mosley. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Haug)

Duffe best in eastern Missouri

The NSDA’s Eastern Missouri District also named Duffe its student of the year. Each school nominates one candidate to apply for the award, which is based not only on debate prowess but community service and extracurricular activities.

Asked why he thinks he received the award, Duffe replied, “It was probably the volunteer work I do with my mom. She owns a real estate company in Kirksville and does a lot of public-subsidized work for the homeless and for chronically mentally ill patients. I do a lot of volunteer work for that; it was a big part of my resumé.”

BHS speech and debate team members (from left) Megan Shipley, Jonathan Duffe, Austin Koster and Seamus Saunders are introduced to the crowd at the March 18 Brentwood Mayoral Forum. The students wrote and asked the first four questions to the candidates. (Photo by Steve Bowman)
BHS speech and debate team members (from left) Megan Shipley, Jonathan Duffe, Austin Koster and Seamus Saunders are introduced to the crowd at the March 18 Brentwood Mayoral Forum. The students wrote and asked the first four questions to the candidates. (Photo by Steve Bowman)

‘We’re like brothers now’

Duffe and Koster have an edge in that they’ve competed together for two years in public forum debate. They’ve argued topics such as nuclear proliferation, public subsidies for sports stadiums and free tuition for community and technical colleges.

“We’re like brothers now,” said Duffe. “We’re not even like debate partners anymore.”

Said Koster, “Our partnership is good because we’re both organized, we’re kind of neat freaks and we like things done our way. But at the same time we have different qualities that balance each other out.”

Duffe put it this way: “We’re pretty much like polar opposites. He’s a really outgoing guy and I’m more like the laid back type.”

The two will be freshman roommates at Truman State this fall. Duffe plans to major in cellular biology.

Jonathan Duffe (left) and Austin Koster do well enough at the MSHSAA district tournament to qualify for state. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Haug)
Jonathan Duffe (left) and Austin Koster are MSHSAA district champions in the category of public forum debate. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Haug)

Mayfield, Saunders ‘click’

Cole Mayfield and Seamus Saunders have been competing as a duo for only six months, and neither has been to NSDA nationals. But like Duffe and Koster they complement each other.

“One day we were practicing debating together and it just clicked easily and we were able to make a good run on districts,” said Mayfield, who has debated for three years. “Seamus is quiet and reserved and keeps to himself but he’s really smart and well spoken. I’m kind of crazy. A lot of people who know me think I’m sort of oddball. I have a lot of weird, different views on things. To have someone who is very smart and knowledgeable about the world with a complete wild card, it just works out.”

Having fun at last year's National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament in Chicago are (from left) Megan Shipley, Cierra Lucas, Austin Koster (back), Cole Mayfield (front) and Jonathan Duffe. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Haug)
Having fun at last year’s National Catholic Forensic League Grand National Tournament in Chicago are (from left) Megan Shipley, Cierra Lucas, Austin Koster (back), Cole Mayfield (front) and Jonathan Duffe. (Photo courtesy of Robyn Haug)

And your debate topic is . . .

Now both Koster-Duffe and Mayfield-Saunders are feverishly preparing for the June 14-19 nationals in Dallas. The statement they will debate is: “The benefits of First Amendment protection of anonymous speech outweigh the harms.” With each team they face, a coin toss helps determine the side they’ll argue and which team goes first.

If the NSDA’s district tournament is a marathon, its national championships are the Tour de France. The winner in public forum debate must survive about a dozen one-hour rounds against some of the brightest, most articulate high school students in the U.S. It’s billed as “the largest academic competition in the world.”

Koster is thrilled that it’s in Dallas, a city where he and his father Bill have attended countless Dallas Cowboys football games. In fact, Bill has a brick with his name on it at AT&T Stadium.

“It’s my last tournament ever as a debater so it’s a bittersweet moment,” said Koster. “There’s a lot of excitement going into it but a lot of pressure because it’s the last tournament and I really want to finish well.”

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