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Debate Is An Exercise In Excellence

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The CHS debate team participated in a tournament at Columbia University in January. While there, the group visited the iconic New York City landmark, Times Square.

CARROLLTON, GA – The result of months of practice and preparation is about to culminate with state, district and national championship competition just around the corner. But the Carrollton High School debate team is ready for the challenge, upholding a tradition as one of the most decorated programs in the state.

Carrollton’s debate program not only shines in the academic realm, but also stands out among all competitive entities at CHS, boasting the second highest number of state championships earned, surpassed only by boys track.

Many reasons can be cited why the program has been so successful, but a primary consideration is the school system’s commitment to send the team to competitive tournaments all over the country, says Richard Bracknell, long-time debate coach. This year’s debaters just returned from a prestigious tournament at Columbia University in New York, traveled to south Florida in early January, and even competed across the country at a tournament in San Jose, Calif., in October. Others years, the teams have competed at Harvard, Stanford and other significant universities.

“We are so fortunate the Carrollton Board of Education is supportive of the extra effort it takes to compete in the top tier,” said Bracknell. “Allowing our teams to travel to prestigious tournaments exposes them to what it takes to be a champion.”

Bracknell is viewed by many as a defining influence on many CHS students who went on to successful careers in myriad fields – from law to medicine to business to education – all enhanced by their debating experience. CHS debaters, who were named STAR Students for their academic prowess, have chosen Bracknell 13 times as their STAR Teacher, a testament to how much students who go through the program respect and admire him.

“Richard Bracknell knows how to get the students to thoroughly study issues, think critically about them and act accordingly,” said David Brooks, CHS principal. “Many debate alumni come back to see him, to share their accomplishments and dreams. He truly is a mentor in the greatest sense of the word.”

Carrollton debaters also gain valuable experience as tournament hosts, further expanding their exposure to top-notch programs. As founder of the Peach State Classic, one of the largest tournaments in Georgia, the CHS debate program has earned a reputation as an exceptional organizer and, and a result, this year will also host the Georgia Forensic Coaches Association state tournament for first and second-year debaters Feb. 9-10.

Because of the program’s status, there is never a problem with recruiting, said Brooks. Many debaters come into the fold as shy and reserved freshmen who, over the course of the four years, blossom into confident researchers and debaters.

Ginger Harper, the mother of junior Hayden Harper, attests that the program brought her son out of his shell to now confidently compete all over the country. One of his more recent accomplishments was placing third out of 176 speakers at The Harker School Debate Tournament in San Jose.

“Hayden has reaped many benefits through his participation on the CHS debate team,” said Harper. “He’s learned and improved his skills in critical thinking, public speaking, research, team work, and receiving feedback constructively, all skills that will help him academically now, in college, and when he joins the workforce as an adult.”

A current freshman, Jack Cox, will be one of seven debaters who will compete in the GFCA state tournament for freshman debaters next week. His mother, Shea Cox, has seen his level of confidence “soar” while working with Bracknell.

“Jack joined the debate team to improve his organization, writing, and research skills,” she said. “Mr. Bracknell is a wonderful mentor and teacher. He fosters independent thinking among his students, which constitutes a diverse, close-knit group. Another advantage of the debate team is the peer learning. The classes are filled with ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders. Jack has been inspired by the older students he spends time with daily.”

The second-year debate students will also compete next week. One member of the team, Edward Bohannon, looks to the tournament as a litmus test of his progress.

“I am excited for the chance to go head-to-head against the very best second-year debaters in the State of Georgia, and use it as a measurement of how far I’ve come while in the Carrollton High School program,” he said.

In early March, varsity members will compete in the GFCA state tournament March 2-3 at Lassiter High School.

“The preparation and work that goes into this tournament is an all-out team effort with research, argument development and practice, practice, practice,” said Bracknell. “Seniors Ruthie Reeves, Evan Abbey, and Michael Morgan are especially motivated, as it is their last opportunity to compete together, and they hope to make the most of this experience.”

“The varsity team is incredibly proud to represent Carrollton at GFCA state and very excited to utilize the new tactics and developments we have made as a team this year,” said Evan.

The team will have an opportunity to put these skills to practice this weekend when it competes in the district tournament in Warner Robins. This event will determine which teams will be represented at the National Speech and Speech Tournament in Ft. Lauderdale this summer.

“The team members are extremely proud of this opportunity and feel they can secure a bid to the national tournament,” said Bracknell.

THE HISTORICAL RECORD: The Carrollton High School debate team has been crowned state champion nine times – in 1987, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2003 and 2010. The team was the state runner-up champion seven times – in 1986, 1990, 1991, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004. The team also has captured 17 region titles and numerous tournament wins.