MORGAN -- Debate is making a comeback at Morgan High School.
A vote from the Morgan County School Board three years ago got the ball rolling, allowing Morgan High to form a debate team. It started as an after-school team activity. Last school year, the team boasted 20 students.
For the 2012-2013 year, the after-school club was supplemented with a Debate I and Debate II class that officially became part of the academic year schedule. Now, the team is up to 35 members, with 21 actively competing at region and state competitions.
This year, 21 Morgan High students competed in the Utah region competition at Tooele School District's Stansbury High School on Feb. 23, participating in eight events, including national extemporaneous, international extemporaneous, original oratory, impromptu, Lincoln-Douglas, public forum, policy and Congress. More than half of Morgan's students placed in the top six in their individual events.
Morgan freshman Elizabeth Preslar won first place in the original oratory event.
Had Morgan competed with a full team, debate coach Layne Carter said, they would have been in contention for winning the region title, which went to Rowland Hall High School in Salt Lake City.
With 21 schools competing in the state tournament, 3A schools have the largest state tournament in Utah, Carter said. Without a full slate of competitors at this year's 3A state tournament, held March 8 and 9 at Weber State University, Morgan still ranked 11th out of 21. That is up from 15th out of 20 last year.
Morgan's six seniors have led the team well, often putting in up to 10 hours a week, Carter said.
Senior Tyson Butterfield, along with partner Kiley Mathews, took second place in the policy event in region competition. Seniors Kade Loveridge and Ryan Lynch took second place in the public forum event in state competition. Other seniors on the team are Taylor Preslar, JJ Stitzer and Zach Holman.
Lynch originally got involved with the debate team two years ago because he thought it would be fun to argue with people. But it evolved into spending many weekends competing as well as dedicating 12 hours to researching each topic, such as income inequality, the rise of China, insurance mandates and federal deficit reduction.
"It's been one of my favorite things I've done in high school," said Lynch, 18. "I've gotten a lot more eloquent with my speech, learned to explain what I'm thinking and see other people's point of view. Public speaking and reasoning skills will help in almost every aspect of life, from just regular conversations to job interviews."
Lynch said the skills he learned on the debate team will help him in his plans for the future, which include an LDS mission to Mesa, Ariz., and attending Brigham Young University.
"The skills you learn in debate will help you throughout your life," said Loveridge, 17. "Definitely the ability to analyze and develop an idea, then present it in an organized way will help in every aspect of my life. I would recommend debate for everyone. There is an event for everyone, whether you enjoy debating or just speaking."
Morgan students seem to be taking Loveridge's advice, as the team's ranks are set to grow next school year. Already, 53 students have registered for debate classes, and Carter expects another 15 to participate after school.
District administrators, some of them Morgan High debate team members themselves from decades past, are pleased with the resurgence of debate at their alma mater.
"I am excited to see the debate team back in Morgan," said Morgan School District board member Ken Durrant, who was a member of Morgan High's debate team in the 1960s. "These are skills that will help them their entire lives."
Superintendent Ken Adams, another former Morgan High debater, initiated the school's debate come-back when he took over as superintendent three years ago.
"Out of everything I have learned in high school, my ability to communicate effectively has been the most valuable," said Loveridge, who plans to serve a church mission, then study microbiology at Utah State University. "I can now form my own opinions based on my own analysis and reasoning instead of relying on others. I am comfortable, even if I don't have anything prepared when speaking in front of people."