As Madison High School continues to scale back its support for speech activities by ending its 40+ years of hosting the Karl E. Mundt Debate Tournament, our neighbors in Rapid City are preparing to scuttle the Stevens High School debate program. To eke out a 5% in the district budget, Rapid City administrators are considering a 50% cut in the Stevens debate budget. The cut would eliminate a teaching position and the beginning and advanced debate classes from the curriculum.
I highly recommend reading the comments section to the RC Journal story. A number of Stevens debate alums have joined parents and other interested parties to state their support for a strong, vigorous debate program. There appears to be a general recognition that debate provides one of the most challenging and profitable educational experiences that our kids can get in high school. When effective communication skills are critical to almost every good job in every field, it defies explanation that school administrators continue to treat debate as an expendable frill (and debate tournaments as an "overwhelming" bother).
For years Stevens debate was a powerhouse. in the late 1980s and 1990s, coaches like Kim Maass, Ron Grimsley, and Steve Bartholomew led Stevens debaters on grand marches across the state to come beat up on us East River debaters. But in the past few years, rapid coaching turnover (three coaches in three years, and one this year who resigned two months in) has left the team in decline.
A strong debate team requires a strong coach. Without lots of home games and arena spectacles to give the activity prominence, debate teams require a vocal, dedicated coach to be their advocate before the administration and school board. Without such a voice, the debate program becomes an easy target for budget cuts by administrators who fail to grasp how vital debate and debate tournaments are to the best education possible.
The Stevens debate program has already done its part to save money, making significant cuts in travel to East River tournaments (thus reducing its competitive advantage at big tournaments against its rivals from Sioux Falls et al.). Asking Stevens debate to shoulder another 50% cut and eliminating the curricular component of the program is unfair and unwise.
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