Controversial national politics and nasty weather were the buzz at the UIL/NFL District competition at Athens High School on Friday.

The NFL, or National Forensic League, is an educational resource and honor society for speech and debate education. It encourages student achievement nationally and abroad through a series of annual competitions.

The Friday tournament was the first NFL event to be hosted by the Athens Independent School District.

“We’d really like to thank our community for their support,” said AHS debate teacher Myrna Bass. “We’re very proud to be able to host the event.”

A total of 337 students from 32 district high schools participated in the tournament. The debates began at 7:30 a.m. and continued until mid-afternoon. For other students, class let out at noon that day to accommodate the out-of-town guests. The non-competing students moved to the auditorium and the Athens Annex for other activities.

Students competed for three rounds in such categories as Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Cross-examination Debate and Public Forum Debate. They argued both sides of each issue, on such subjects as Eminent Domain being used for private enterprise and holding prisoners without issuing formal charges.

“I think I did well,” said AHS senior Lisa Heffington. Heffington debated Eminent Domain with a Royse City student in a Lincoln-Douglas format. “It was a very, very close round. (My opponent) was a very good debater.”

A three-hour Congress Debate was also held at noon. The debate was split into four “houses,” with around 30 students to a house. It followed a formula similar to the U.N., with students presenting speeches over the spread of HIV without consent or pulling troops out of Iraq as they were called on.

The debates were judged by Athens teachers and parents, as well as teachers from the other participating high schools.

“People need to understand how articulate these kids are,” said retired AISD math teacher Patty Curtis, who judged a three-round Public Forum debate. “These kids listen to the news, read the news and have ideas.

“I think it’s outstanding they would do something like this instead of going to the movies. It gives us hope for our future.”

When they weren’t busy scoring the students’ performance, parents rolled up their sleeves to keep the crowd from going hungry. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were available at the school that day, with refreshments being offered in a hospitality lounge between meals.

The food was provided by local sponsors, which were organized by Lanita Boening, head of the campus’ Parent Support Group. Pam Galvan, a member of the support group, took care of much of the legwork in obtaining the donations.

“It’s pretty easy to get sponsors together, when it comes to school,” Galvan said. “There were plenty of businesses in Athens willing to help.”

Unfortunately, the cold weather brought things to an early halt at around 5 p.m., when buses struck out for home to avoid icy road conditions. As a result, numerous debates had to be rescheduled.

“The tournament is less than half over,” said UIL/NFL District Chairperson Janice Caldwell afterward. “But these kind of things happen with the weather.”

But despite the frosty hassle, it was a satisfying day for the district. Caldwell, who first suggested the tournament be held at AHS, described the teachers and parents as impressive hosts.

“Mrs. Bass is an amazing woman, and the principal is very accommodating,” Caldwell said. “They worked around the school day. We really appreciate that.”

The Extemporaneous Speaking, Duo Acting and Interpretation events will be held at Pine Tree High School on Feb. 27, as will the elimination rounds for the Friday debates. Two more Congress Debate sessions will also be held.

The judge’s scores on several of the debates were unknown as of Friday afternoon. But so far, Bass said, things have gone well for Athens.

“They did very well,” she said. “The Cross-examination team didn’t lose a round.” Allison Boening and Jordan Williams, the AHS participants in the Cross-examination debate, will continue to the elimination rounds.

All 32 schools are scheduled to attend the Pine Tree follow-up. The winning students will go on to the National Speech and Debate Tournament, which will be held in the Grapevine area this June.


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