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Undebatably good

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Dominic Adams wouldn’t describe himself as nonconfrontational.

“I really like arguing and I have forever,” the South Medford High School student and speech and debate competitor said. “So being able to debate with people at tournaments in kind of a non-angry way was a very nice little outlet for me.”

It turns out he’s also pretty good at it. After joining his high school’s speech and debate club, later enrolling in the class, Adams is about to head to the National Tournament for the second time in June with three teammates.

This is far from the first time South Medford has sent students to the largest academic competition in the world, but this year is special — including for teacher Caroline Campbell, who will be recognized with a national award.

The National Speech and Debate Association’s Diamond award signifies the longevity and success of a coach’s program.

As a coach, Campbell earns fractions of points for her students’ performances in competitions; over the years, those results have amassed the 1,500 points needed to earn her the award.

She’s focused on her students, however.

“It’s just amazing what our students have accomplished,” Campbell said. “And I’m super proud of them.”

Her handiwork is evidenced by the awards filling her classroom as well as the accolades of the participants. Adams will be recognized as an All-American, which puts him in an elite category of debaters due to his scores at tournaments as well as his GPA and other metrics.

His teammate and president of the school’s club, Cristien Hernandez, was named a District Student of the Year, the criteria for which includes integrity, honesty, leadership and service.

Campbell participated in speech and debate in high school and was the catalyst for the club at South Medford to expand into a class, where students could delve more into debate theory and strategy.

Students participate in a range of events, from congressional debate to big questions to humorous interpretation events. Each requires a distinct flavor of writing and delivery.

Campbell said that participating can benefit students no matter what path they might pursue in life.

Hernandez is a good example. He’s planning to study molecular biology or biochemistry at Oregon State University and pursue a career in medicine.

Hernandez said he sees his speech and debate skills as transferable to that work if he wants to publish research, for example. For now, they help him at his job working at the Fred Meyer in South Medford.

“Many would say that there’s no use for my speech and debate skills here but I often use them when interacting with customers,” he said. “You get to learn how to talk in a way that you present yourself and (information) doesn’t get lost. You get to understand ways to think quickly but also to speak up.”

Adams also pointed to soft skills he’s gained.

“I think I certainly have become a more confident individual since I joined this class,” he said. He expects to need that as well as the speaking skills, as he plans to become a courtroom lawyer.

Both Adams and Hernandez qualified in the World School debate event, in which students discuss positions on specific issues in teams.

The NSDA website describes the event as “highly interactive” and “challenging,” requiring “good teamwork and in-depth quality argumentation.”

As much as the debaters aim for success, both Adams and Hernandez described a friendly and communal competitive atmosphere. The bonds they make at tournaments often turn into real friendships.

“People love South Medford as a team,” Adams said. “That’s something I’ve come across a lot is that people really enjoy the entirety of South Medford as a team.”

He credits that to Campbell, who said that she was influenced by her own speech and debate teacher.

“I think there’s a lot to do with how we hold ourselves at tournaments, and how we act overall.”

It is a different type of competition, she said. “You’re there to win. But you’re also there because we build these relationships ... amongst our own teammates but also with other schools.”

Before it heads off to Dallas, Texas, for Nationals, the team will go to the OSAA state championships later this month.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Hear a South Medford Student's State-Qualifying SpeechThumbnail
South Medford High School speech and debate competitors Dominic Adams, left, and Cristien Hernandez are heading to the National Tournament with their team. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune