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PCHS Debate Team Sends Five To National Championships

Credit PCHS Debate Team 2019 / Gavin Serr
Gavin Serr

The Park City High School Debate Team is going to Dallas, Texas to compete in the national championships this month. Their coach is retiring this year, but they’ve got a solid plan in place to maintain momentum and continue the success of this relatively new club at the high school.

Assistant Coach and Park City alum, Gavin Serr will travel with the team as he is taking the place of Sharon Ellsworth-Nielsen who is a debate teacher at the high school. She’s been coaching for six years and says the program has exploded with about 150 per kids taking classes.

“We began five years ago with one class and then Bob O’Connor went to Treasure to say let’s bring some 8th and 9th graders on. Let’s teach these kids some important life skills also.  So, we had two classes, then three and so for the last three years, we’ve been functioning with four debate classes.

Not all kids taking debate class join the team. But Ellsworth-Nielsen points to the benefits of students learning deliberation skills.

“They come to us awkward and unsure of themselves and they leave much more comfortable with presenting themselves and how to organize their argument and evaluate the arguments and opinions of others.”

The assistant coaches are college debaters and they, along with many on the team have pushed themselves to compete on a national level.

Serr graduated from Park City High School last year as a decorated debater. He says there is nothing that has had a more profound impact on him. The critical thinking and communication skills, he says are great tools for success in college.

“The people who do debate tend to be the most compassionate and understanding people out there because when you have to debate both sides of an issue constantly, you can’t help but develop understanding and empathy and just become a better person."

Serr says persistence is needed to be successful and when in debate competition, it demands preparation and quick response.

“I’m coaching right now that I’ve been working with, called Public Forum. They are not going to know which side they are debating in any given round, until they show up for the round. They flip a coin and the winner decides which side they’re debating on and between the time that they know what side they’re debating and when they have to begin speaking, is maybe 60 seconds.”

Ellsworth-Nielsen says two team members are in South Africa teaching students debate skills hoping they’ll join in international competition next year.

Five students will go to the Nationals in Dallas. They’ll compete in three separate events.

Ellsworth-Neilson says they brought Serr and a second assistant college age coach, Sage Miller on as coaches because of their debate skills. Both have debated with the University of Utah. She says the high school students look up to skilled college debaters like Serr and Miller.