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Lessons learned in grueling debate competition

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

They didn't come home with a trophy or medals. But five members of the Hays High School debate team still learned some valuable lessons from their experience at the weekend's Class 5A State 2-Speaker Championships at Hutchinson.

With a larger state-qualifying group than normal, HHS coach Zach Butte knew it would take a better than .500 mark to make the elimination rounds, or the top 16.

He had predicted at least a 4-2 mark. It turned out to be even stiffer than that.

"With 70 teams, you had to be near perfect," Butte said, explaining 12 of the 16 teams that qualified for the elimination rounds were either 6-0 or 5-1. "And the four 4-2 teams that made it had to have immaculate speaker points."

Hays High seniors Ryan Unruh and Courtney Hess finished with a 3-3 record and in the top half of the 70 teams, while senior Spencer McCue and junior Alex Green went 2-4.

Butte said some of HHS' losses were "hard to take because they were mathematical ties," of which HHS ended up on the lower end.

However, he added, "qualifying for state, they're all winners. It's a great experience getting to see that high level of competition."

To qualify for the two-speaker division at state, students have to attend at least four regular-season tournaments with five rounds each and post a winning record through 20 rounds.

In addition, Butte said sophomore Ben Rajewski, who made the trip as an alternate, also gained some valuable experience.

"(Rajewski) came back with his critical analysis on every round, which not only helped him but will be beneficial to me," said Butte, who as a head coach cannot sit in and watch any of the rounds.

It was the second consecutive trip to state for Unruh and Hess, who also went 3-3 at the season finale as juniors.

Hardware or not, Butte said he was pleased with his students' efforts.

"It looks good on resumes (qualifying for state), and for applications for college scholarships. It shows a certain amount of dedication," he said. "And the communication skills alone are invaluable."