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Houston Independent School District
Reagan Debate Team Headed to National Championship
News Release by Michael Niggli, English Department Chair, Reagan HS
Thursday, April 16, 2009

(left to right) Lesley Guilmart (coach), David Perez, Brandon Clements, Chloe Evans (coach) and Barry Hammond (mentor) celebrate the Reagan Debate Team’s second place win.John H. Reagan High School’s debate team of Brandon Clements and David Perez took second place in the Houston Urban Debate League (HUDL) city championship on March 27 and 28. The event took place at the University of Houston’s main campus and the downtown Federal Courthouse. The win earned each student $1,250 in scholarship money and a trip to Chicago to compete for the national championship, April 23–26.

“It’s pretty astounding,” said Perez, a senior.  “It’s an extraordinary feeling for an extraordinary situation, at least that’s how it is for me.”

Perez is not alone in his extraordinary feeling.  Clements, a junior, was not even considering college before this year.  Debate seems to have changed his perspective; he is now considering a career in law.

“It’s insane!” said Clements about their showing at the tournament.  “I never thought we would win.  It really is a huge success story.  We were really the underdog.”

This is the first year that Reagan has competed in the UDL, and it was a learning experience for first year debate coaches Chloe Evans and Lesley Guilmart, as well.

“When my students won, I cried,” said an emotional Evans in describing her feelings after the announcement that the team was going to Chicago.  “It has been such an enjoyable experience to see how far they've come in just one school year. Proud cannot even begin to explain my feelings about their success.”

Guilmart was equally proud of the students’ development.

“It was a rewarding experience watching students become so engaged in using skills that will benefit them throughout their lives,” she said.  “Those skills paid off when they won the debates, and students could see an immediate reward for their hard work.  It was truly exhilarating witnessing their success and enthusiasm.”

In the HUDL, each school is given a mentor with debate experience to help the students understand the dynamics of debating.  This year, lawyer Barry Hammond of King  & Spalding, LLP mentored Reagan’s team.

“Barry played a huge role in helping them develop the necessary skills,” said Guilmart.  “We definitely would not have been as successful without his help.”

At the beginning of the school year in August, the path wasn’t so clear.  As the first debate classes met, discussion regarding how to — and what to — argue was the norm.  This year’s debate topic was alternative energy sources.

“At first, it was hectic,” said Clements.  “The amount of ‘lingo’ to be learned was crazy!  But being in debate really teaches you to think differently.  I feel like I can own anyone in an argument about alternative energy!”

Students were handed packets of information to dissect and hours were spent thumbing through books, journals, and searching the Internet.  But after the first debate in the fall, momentum was building.  On their own time, students organized evenings of food and research at their homes.  Sometimes it got frustrating, but the students held their course and plowed through the piles of information, searching for the right words and the most precise arguments. Clearly, it has all paid off.

Evans was particularly impressed with the students’ desire to win it all.

“The students were very motivated and worked hard to prepare for every tournament,” she said.  “They especially knew how high the stakes were to win the city championship and committed a lot of time.”

So what started out as a humble group of students and two brand new debate teachers has turned into a family that is going to Chicago to try and bring a national debate championship to Reagan High School.

“It definitely feels like a family, walking into Ms. Evans’ classroom [for debate class],” said Perez about the incredible transformation.  

And now, they are going to attempt what some thought just a few short months ago to be the impossible — a national championship.

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