Portland school sending 'masters of public speaking' to national tourney

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PORTLAND — Five members of the Deering High School debate team have qualified for the national tournament in Birmingham, Alabama.

Senior Spencer Todd and junior Chris Sheehy will compete in the public forum debate. Senior Alex Smith and freshmen Conrad Nguyen and Glynnis O’Meara will take part in the world schools debate invitational, according to Brian Dodge, the team’s coach.

Smith, Nguyen and O’Meara, who were in the top five at the state tournament in January, will also be joined by a student from Maranacook High School.

The students are now preparing for the June national tournament, and raising funds to help cover the cost of the trip.

In addition to a GoFundMe page, the Deering team will also be hosting a pasta dinner at the school on May 4. The dinner starts at 6 p.m. and is sponsored by Olive Garden. Dodge said there are other fundraisers being planned, but no dates have been set.

To be a good debater, Dodge said, students “must be masters of public speaking, fluent in philosophy, and able to make connections where others can’t.”

“A good debater is someone who can find a reason to convince you to abandon your long-held beliefs,” he added. “It’s an incredibly difficult skill to learn, but those who are successful at it will be leading our country (one day).”

The debate season runs from early October through late January, when tournaments are held every Saturday.

The team at Deering practices about three hours a week. Dodge said students also put in quite a number of hours practicing on their own, including research and case-writing.

During the practice sessions, “we try to polish oratory skills, cross-examination techniques, rebuttal strategies, and brainstorm contentions and values,” Dodge said.

On tournament days, he said the team often boards the bus at 6 a.m. and doesn’t return until 7 or 8 p.m.

“I’m incredibly proud of these kids,” Dodge said. “I’ve been the coach at Deering for four years (and) last year we had our first national qualifier. We were elated.”

“Now, to have five students going is an amazing success that I am thrilled to be a part of,” he said. “I truly consider myself lucky to work with such amazingly hard-working and devoted students.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

Five members of the debate team at Deering High School are headed to the national competition, which will be held in mid-June. In back, from left, are Claire Sheehy, Glynnis O’Meara, Selam Desta, Chris Sheehy, Brian Dodge, the team’s coach, Spencer Todd and Morgan Beals. In front are Conrad Nguyen, Jess Ross and Alex Smith.

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