ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Imagine starting each basketball season with a roster filled with freshmen. The team might fare well against other freshman teams, but the prospect of competing successfully against varsity teams would be intimidating at best.
But that’s the challenging facing debate coach Terry Bebermeyer almost every season at Hillsboro High School. Debate as a competitive activity is rooted each fall in the students who happen to sign up for Bebermeyer’s debate class.
That makes it tough to compete against programs where continuity is emphasized.
“Because of class scheduling and other (activities) in school, debate for us is a novice event, where they’re in it for a year and then move on to other things,” Bebermeyer said. “So we never get to the upper-level competition as much.”
When all his debaters are in their first year, competing in the novice class is a good experience for them. But when there’s an odd mix of participants-like this past fall season-it becomes difficult.
Tyler Creek was a case in point this fall, Bebermeyer said.
“This was Tyler’s second year, so he could not move down to the novice level,” Bebermeyer said. “We had to move somebody up with him to the second level. So those kids were almost always having to debate against second-, third- and fourth-year debaters when they were just learning.
“That made it pretty difficult for them,” he said.
This year’s team faced additional-but typical-scheduling conflicts. Jordan Woelk also played football and Peter Richert participated in cross country, as well as National Guard stints on some weekends.
“We weren’t always sure which partners would be partners,” Bebermeyer said.
“It was kind of an interesting year because we had such a revolving door,” he said. “We started out with five or six, then some had some conflicts, and one of our returning students ended up not in school anymore. Then we brought in some of our former debaters, who helped us finish out the season.”
The former debaters were Danielle Johnson and Adrien Bebermeyer.
“They did a good job for us, even going in cold into league debate,” Terry Bebermeyer said.
This past season was unique for another reason. Researching the statewide question, which dealt with U.S. foreign policy regarding weapons of mass destruction, became more than an abstract exercise.
Bebermeyer said he and his team were attending a debate exhibition sponsored by the Kansas State High School Activities Association when officials came in and announced the Sept. 11 tragedy.
“A lot of the kids thought it was just part of the debate,” Bebermeyer said.
“After that, which was very early in the season, the whole thing took on a whole new meaning because (the topic) ranged from terrorism as a weapon of mass destruction to the normal things you’d think of, like the bombs and all that.
“You had to keep up constantly. Anthrax all of a sudden became a popular thing, too.”
Bebermeyer said coaches disagreed whether the Sept. 11 incident should be included in the debate process.
“Some thought you shouldn’t, and others thought it was part of the learning process and of course you should,” he said. “It was a real interesting topic this year. Whether it will ever happen again-that it was such a timely thing-I don’t know.”
As he looks to the future, Bebermeyer isn’t necessarily concerned about directing a small program.
“For us it’s OK-as long as people who try to compare us to other schools remember that we’re in that situation,” he said. “Other schools in our league have the same problem.”
For league competition, Bebermeyer needs a minimum of four debaters-two to take the affirmative position and two to take the negative. Invitational meets require as few as two.
“Obviously, having too small a team is not good because you run into all the different conflicts in schedules,” he said. “But a small team is good in that you can work together and you don’t have to divide your attention too much to get everybody knowing what they’re doing.”
Bebermeyer said he will be more proactive about participants for next season because he needs at least six students to even offer a debate class.
To generate some exposure, he and some of his debaters will demonstrate their skills to middle school students within a few weeks.
“There are so many (students) who don’t have a clue what debate is all about,” he said.
Bebermeyer said debate has great value for almost any student.
“It teaches them excellent research skills and also organizational skills as far as organizing points, quickly taking notes, and evaluating arguments and counter-arguing,” he said.