Hilltalkers to share their knowledge with the newest group of debaters

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By Kirsten Laskey

The Los Alamos High School Hilltalkers are smooth talkers. Their speech abilities allowed them to compete six rounds of the National Forensic League’s National Tournament, held June 12-18 in Birmingham, Ala. The seven Hilltalkers needed eight ballots to break into the elimination round and earned seven.

The policy debaters and the duo interpretation team were close to being placed in the top 60 teams but achieved a spot in the top 100.

More than 300 high schools brought a total of 3,500 students to the competition.

“For them to be that competitive is impressive,” Margo Batha, co-sponsor of the team, said.   

This is the second time the Hilltalkers have qualified for state.

Perhaps what is even more impressive is the Hilltalkers are sharing their gift for the gab with fellow students.

The high school speech and debate team will host a debate camp Aug. 3-7. The camp will be held from 3:30-5:30 p.m. every day at LAHS.

Admission to the camp is open to incoming eighth- and ninth-graders and costs $40.

The proceeds from the camp will benefit the speech and debate team.

The camp will be divided into modules and will introduce newcomers to different types of speech and debate such as duo interpretive, dramatic interpretive, policy debate and Lincoln/Douglas debate.

Sydney Sivils, a member of the Hilltalkers and the primary organizer for the camp, encourages students to participate.

“First of all, you just become an overall better speaker … it is just really helpful and looks really good on a college application,” Sivils said.

Arik Burakovsky, a LAHS graduate and former member of Hilltalkers, can attest to the benefits of being a part of the speech and debate team.

He was the New Mexico winner of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s peace essay contest.

As a result, Burakovsky traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with congressmen and senators.

“If it hadn’t been for debate, I never would have thought of that,” he said. “I think debate definitely helped with my writing and the things I have achieved.”

William Phillips, another Hilltalkers member, added speech and debate can expand perceptions as well. For instance, he said, looking at articles in a newspaper, he is able to view current events from more than one perceptive.  

“Debate really helped me,” Phillips said. “It made me experience both sides of an argument.”

Speech and debate may broaden perspectives, but it can also increase confidence.

“Being in public speaking makes you very confident in what you have to say,” Burakovsky said.

It isn’t just their experiences in a national competition that these debaters are able to pass on to their peers. All the captains for this years’s Hilltalkers team are participating in speech and debate camps throughout the country. The captains are Emma Carroll, Alicia Herrrerra and Gina Stroud.

“It’s quite a pool of accumulated knowledge,” Batha said.

As the team looks to the start of a new year, they have some fresh goals to accomplish.

Sivils said they hope to expand the team to 50-60 members as well as to go to as many national tournaments as possible.

Batha said she hopes the team will also become diverse in the types of debates they perform. “We want our debaters to be versatile.”

It appears it will be worth the effort. “The skills you learn in debate stay with you for a lifetime,” Sivils said.

Pre-registration is required for the speech camp.

Call Batha at 670-2852 or e-mail her at m.batha@laschools.net.