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‘A good run’: Nevada Union High School debate partners qualify to compete in Tournament of Champions

By Victoria Penate | Staff Writer
Nevada Union High School junior Jackson Witt, left, and senior Evelyn Grandfield are the fourth-ever team from their school to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, a prestigious national debate tournament held in April.
Submitted to The Union

Nevada Union High School debate partners Evelyn Grandfield and Jackson Witt, a senior and junior respectively, are the fourth-ever team from their school to qualify to compete in the Tournament of Champions.

Qualifying for this tournament requires securing two bids — each earned by completing multiple preliminary rounds and succeeding in elimination rounds — in qualifying tournaments.

Grandfield and Witt earned their second bid earlier this month at a tournament hosted virtually by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, an achievement Witt said he was “super excited” about.

As he looks toward his senior year, Witt said recruitment is a key issue for Nevada Union’s debate program, explaining, “Early recruitment, and debating from a freshman to a senior, is something that can really help your chances of succeeding.”

Witt said he is thankful for the program’s coaches, Stephen Goldberg and Dan Stanfield, as well as the parents who support the program, who he said “have helped us get to where we are.”

“It’s been amazing to do this as a senior,” said Grandfield, explaining that she is able to take a leadership role and be an example to students in the school’s debate elective class, which she teaches alongside Witt.

Grandfield said the preparation she and Witt have done for competition has involved reading many books and articles — in this case, on criminal justice reform, which was chosen as this year’s topic nationwide for high school policy debaters.

“To be able to talk about criminal justice reform policies has been a very formative experience, and teaches you so much about the biggest issues going on the world,” said Grandfield.

Goldberg, who has coached Nevada Union Debate for over 20 years, described the Tournament of Champions, held each April, as “the most prestigious and most difficult to qualify for championship that we have.”

According to Goldberg, the program is on “a good run,” as three out of the four times a Nevada Union team has qualified for this tournament have been within the last few years — in 2018, 2019, and now 2021.

“There aren’t very many rural schools that have nationally competitive debate programs, and that’s one of the things that makes Nevada Union’s program both special and unique,” he said.

Jamie Hogenson, Witt’s mother and the vice president of the program’s booster club, said qualifying for this tournament is the culmination of years of preparation for the students — both of whom began debate in middle school.

Ryan Witt, Jackson Witt’s father, described each tournament the students participate in as a time-intensive undertaking. “It’s quite a feat in any tournament to achieve one (bid), so they were definitely very excited when they got their second,” he said.

Claire McAdams, Grandfield’s mother and the president of the booster club, said, “We really appreciate the community support, and would love to see the Tournament of Champions be a way for people to get fired up on helping the club for future teams.”

District Superintendent Brett McFadden called supporting the Nevada Union debate program, currently the only one in the district, a “high priority,” saying the skills students are able to hone through debate are “an enormous benefit to analytical skill development.”

“You have to do a ton of research, and think out and process your argument, so they’re skills that can benefit almost any profession or vocation,” said McFadden.

Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at vpenate@theunion.com.


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