Free State takes home hardware at state debate tournament; Lawrence High seniors cap off historic season

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In a weekend featuring more than a dozen high school debaters from Lawrence, Free State High School took home second place in the four-speaker division and sent a team to the semifinals in the two-speaker division of the state tournament.

Meanwhile, two Lawrence High seniors have earned the school’s first bid to the national Tournament of Champions.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association state debate tournament features two divisions. The four-speaker division includes the nine 6A schools that qualified from their regionals. Each team competes with four debaters in a round robin-style tournament.

Free State’s team of seniors AJ Persinger, Emma Hefty, Emma Stammeyer, junior Sophie Racy and freshman alternates Lena Hasiuk and Breahna Randall placed second with a 12-4 overall record, losing only to reigning champions Washburn Rural.

“Free State worked really hard to prepare for the tournament. We all put in a lot of late nights doing practice rounds and researching,” Hefty said. “All our assistant coaches worked so hard all season and we appreciated all the work they put in, to help us prep and give us pep talks.”

Free State’s Persinger and Racy have debated together for multiple years and currently possess three bids to the Tournament of Champions, widely considered the best debate tournament in the country. Free State won the Tournament of Champions last year, the first time a Lawrence school had ever won it.

Contributed photo Lawrence High School debate students (left to right) Caitlin Sand, Frances Parker, Sophia Montrose, and Thomas Lushington

Lawrence High’s team of seniors Caitlin Sand, Frances Parker, Thomas Lushington and sophomore Sophia Montrose placed seventh at state, with a 6-10 record. 

“Debate has always been there for me throughout my high school career, so finishing it up this year at state felt quite bittersweet,” Sand said. “I was really proud of my partner Frances [for] putting in all the hard work creating eight negative strategies and giving the last negative speeches. It felt nice to go out with a 50/50 record and end the season and my debate career with my best friend.”

Parker and Sand earned Lawrence High’s first bid to the Tournament of Champions this season.

In the two-speaker division, individual teams of two debaters qualify based on their performance throughout the season, rather than a separate regional tournament. They compete in six rounds of preliminary debate before the top 32 teams enter a single-elimination bracket.

Free State entered three teams into the two-speaker division.

Senior CiCi Hunter and junior Connor Brown advanced as the third seed, making it to the semifinals before losing to second-seeded Blue Valley North, placing them in the top four. 

Contributed photo Free State High School senior CiCi Hunter and junior Connor Brown took third place in the KSHSAA state debate two-speaker division, Jan. 14, 2023.

FSHS sophomores Cooper Hefty and Gilly Falin also advanced to the round of 32. 

Lawrence High had two teams entered in the two-speaker division with sophomores Adele Spiess and Giulia Ventello qualifying for the round of 32 as the 25th seed before being eliminated by the fifth-seeded Blue Valley North. 

Last weekend, Firebirds Hefty and Stammeyer also brought home the Kansas Debate Championship title, a statewide debate tournament featuring the state’s best traditional debaters.

“It all felt sorta surreal today, and I still don’t think it’s really hit me that I’m done with debate,” Hefty said. “I mean, I’ve been doing it for four years and it’s become such a big part of my life, but I had a lot of fun during my senior season and I think all my hard work paid off.

“I’m really happy for my experiences in debate and I wouldn’t change anything,” Hefty continued. “Me and my partner won the KDC last weekend which was our goal since sophomore year when we started debating together, and then getting second at state this weekend I think tied it all up nicely.”

Contributed photo Emma Hefty and Emma Stammeyer
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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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