Maybe you saw the story I wrote not too long ago about the teenage girls from Lincoln College Prep who are winning debate titles in unorthodox and, quite clearly, disruptive ways.
I know many of their competitors saw it. I heard from them. Boy, did I.
I asked them to tell me more.
“I’m all for using the debate space to change society,” wrote Constanza Castro, a debater with Raytown South High School.
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“I however am not for offending and being mean to other competitors,” she said. “I don’t think it’s OK for students to leave debate rounds crying.”
The Lincoln team — Monica Medeiros and Ellen Baker — will, when they see judges open to it, attack in their brand of urban debate style.
They draw on their experience with gender bias and competing from an inner-city school. They unleash poetry or music and tactics that, to some, come across as “rude.”
They and their coach, Sohail Jouya, have been the targets of numerous complaints. The state’s governing body disqualified them, then re-instated them.
Their coach, the school district confirmed, will not be returning to Lincoln next year — though the debate program will carry on.
The conflict sounds familiar to Jane Rinehart.
She’s the former coach of Kansas City’s Central High School team — a squad whose brash and turbulent style a decade ago won tournaments while stoking backlash.
“It’s ridiculous this stuff is still going on,” she said.
The urban-born tactic of going off-topic and getting personal or criticizing the process is just that, Rinehart said, a tactic. It gave Central students a powerful voice that carried. They won with it, and lost with it.
“This is the way the game is played,” she said. “It’s debate. It’s an argument. There is an answer to arguments.”
The Lincoln team’s opponents don’t disagree with that.
And it would be naive to claim there is no gender bias, or racial bias, or urban/suburban bias in debate competition, some said.
The debate teams exist in a world coping with biases, said Blue Springs High School debater Trevor Lutjen.
“(But) if anything,” he wrote, “the debate community is more accepting of minority ideals.”
He holds great respect for the Lincoln team, he said, and they “played their cards to win.”
But in this case, Lutjen and Castro and others argue the Lincoln debaters overplayed their hand and exceeded sensibilities.
Enough of the regional tournament judges apparently didn’t think so.
It’s a good debate. And it’s not resolved.