Speech and Debate Continues Tradition of Excellence

Will Ledig ’17

Since the school year of 1999-2000, Mr. Jerry Crist and Mr. Murvin Auzenne have coached the Strake Jesuit debate team to become one of the top teams in the nation. As a result, debaters from Strake Jesuit have recently received recognition for their extraordinary successes, both individually and as a team. I interviewed these coaches along with the team captain, senior Sean McCormick, in order to discuss the SJ debate program’s uniqueness, achievements, and plans for the future.

As coaches, Mr. Crist and Mr. Auzenne enjoy working with bright kids attracted by an activity as academically centric as debate. They’re privileged to witness these kids go through a learning curve and experience both success and disappointment and how different students deal with such situations. Mr. Crist states that he enjoys “having an impact on the students” who, according to Mr. Auzenne, “will become future leaders” and respected members of society. At the insistence of the coaches, the older students, such as team captain Sean McCormick, develop leadership skills by teaching the younger students.

As a captain, Sean is responsible for pep talks and leading the team by his example. As a skilled debater who has experienced much success, the underclassmen on the team look up to him as a role model. “The more work I do, the more work the team does,” Sean said. Also, because of his position as the top debater on the team, his word has significant weight so that underclassmen are more apt to follow his advice.

As a debater, Sean says he is fond of the “freedom and individualism” that debate offers. Unlike most other extracurricular activities, debaters compete as either individuals or in small teams of two, depending on the event. This means that one only has oneself to blame when one faces disappointment. Furthermore, Sean points out, “What I say in the round is entirely up to me.” He also values debate for its nationwide community and boost to his work ethic, intelligence, and, of course, resume.

For the 2014 to 2015 season, the debate team received two major recognitions from the National Speech and Debate Association. First, Strake Jesuit was recognized as a National Debate School of Excellence, placing it in the top twenty debate schools in the country. Second, Strake Jesuit debaters received over 100 degrees of merit, which landed the team a spot in the Association’s 100 Club and thus ranked in the top ten percent of debate programs in the nation. This year, the team has done comparatively better than they have in prior years, with Sean leading the nation with the most bids to the prestigious Tournament of Champions, a major national debate tournament held at the end of the school year. Sean has also reached at least semifinals in all tournaments that he has attended this fall and, because of such, is currently ranked fourth in the country and second in the state of Texas. In addition, senior Kyle Fennessy and junior Richard Cook have earned one bid each to the Tournament of Champions, bringing the team total for bids to six, currently the fourth most in the United States.

Mr. Crist expects several of the team’s freshmen debaters to qualify for the state championship by the end of the season, including one in Lincoln-Douglas and one team of two debaters in Public Forum, along with numerous upperclassmen.