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Young debaters prepare to face off

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Standing in front of a bank of judges, Billy Bock faced the unenviable task of arguing that America no longer is the greatest country in the world.

He cited statistics on education level, crime and quality of life. Figures on divorce and drug use illustrated moral shortcomings. His statements were clear and definitive, assertive but not preachy.

Getting that greatness back would require returning to the country’s moral roots, he concluded.

“America is not the greatest country in the world anymore,” he said, pausing for a beat before adding, “but she can be.”

For area students like Bock looking to sharpen their communication skills, think on their feet and learn how to research a position, the REJO!CE Speech & Debate Club offers them a chance to speak up. The group is made up of home-schooled students from throughout central Indiana who gather regularly to practice debate.

REJO!CE will be one of 13 teams from six states participating in the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association tournament starting today in Greenwood. Another central Indiana team, PROCLA!M Speech & Debate Club, also will take part.

“Life is about communication, and how well you do that affects the decisions you make and how you come across to other people. It affects everything in your life,” Bock said.

REJO!CE has been meeting and competing for about 10 years. The group was formed by parents of home-schooled children who wanted to help develop their children’s verbal skills in a fun environment.

The group divides its season into two halves. The first part of the year is spent teaching and preparing students to be good public speakers. Clear pronunciation, animated movement and eye contact are all important skills they work on.

Challenging ideas

Members also learn to compete against other students in regional tournaments, which make up the second half of the season.

“As a parent, we get to meet a lot of goals for our kids. One of those is that they follow Christ. Another is that they want to think about big ideas, to think critically about big ideas,” said Bridget Rogers, coordinator of REJO!CE.

Competitions are divided into speeches and debates.

In debate, the clubs are given a broad topic each year to study and create arguments. In the past, those topics have included the reformation of the United Nations, the criminal justice system and environmental policy.

The club members are allowed to hone specific aspects of that topic for their own debate.

Putting together the best presentation possible requires diligent research. The students pore over Internet sites, academic journals and newspaper articles to get the clearest picture of their topic.

In competition, the two teams take turns asserting a position while the other works to find logical holes in the case.

“It’s really interesting the first time you have to argue against your beliefs. Not that you have to learn how to lie, but how to see the flaws in different arguments,” said 17-year-old Christian DeLeon.

More than any other skill or academic quality, DeLeon credits the debate club with helping prepare him for his post-education career. He plans to study philosophy as a major in college, with political science as a minor.

“It’s shown me where my passions lie. In classes I’ve taken with IUPUI, I’ve had to give speeches, write research papers. And even taking notes in class, debate has prepared me really well,” he said.

Bock, 17, joined the REJO!CE group in 2007. His mother suggested he join to learn to communicate more clearly. His 14-year-old brother, Sam, is also a member of REJO!CE.

For him, the most difficult part is not knowing what information or research your opponents bring the debate, Sam Bock said.

‘Our travel sport’

Being in the club has helped him become more knowledgeable about the world and made him a better student.

“I’ve learned about current events that I never would have know about before. Before I started this, I’d never heard of the United Nations, and now I know. It really expands your knowledge,” Sam Bock said.

Community Church of Greenwood has hosted the club’s speech and debate tournaments for the group in the past. With a spacious facility with multiple breakout rooms to stage individual competitions, it was an ideal match for the league’s goals, Rogers said.

This will be the third time Community Church of Greenwood has been involved in the competition.

Pamela Duncan, associate pastor for the church, said the group is so highly organized and respectful of the facilities that the church looks forward to its events every time.

“They’re so well prepared, it’s like a military group coming in. They’re wonderful people and a wonderful group to have here,” she said.

The Greenwood tournament will include 120 competitors from six states. Tournaments last for an intense four days. Each day contains two hours of speech competition and two hours of debate.

This will be the second of four qualifying events for the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association. Those who do best will compete at the regional final, held this year at Oshkosh, Wis., in May.

“This is our travel sport. Some people choose football, basketball or soccer,” Rogers said. “We choose debate.”

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