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Home-schooled youths hone debate skills.

Byline: George Barnes

GARDNER - Home-schooled students from throughout the Northeast gathered this past week at Gardner High School for three days of public speaking and debating.

The event, called the S.U.N. Tournament (Speak Unto your Neighbor), was an opportunity for 140 Christian home-schooled students to sharpen their public speaking, logic, performance and other skills, while meeting and competing with high school students from similar backgrounds.

Eunice Au of New Jersey, an assistant tournament director, said the tournament was one step toward a national competition put on by National Christian Forensics and Communications Association.

She said the meaning of "forensics" was not the familiar one made famous by television shows like "CSI," where science is applied to legal investigations. The word also means debate.

Mrs. Au said the speech and debate competitions demand significant time and effort on the part of the students, but the reason they are held is simple.

"We feel it's our duty to prepare our kids for life," she said.

Mrs. Au said the skills learned in the competitions are those the youngsters will be able to use in whatever career or vocation they pursue. She said that at the end of the competition, the students will receive the ballots relating to their performances, giving them a chance to see where they were strong and where they needed work.

Along with helping run the competition, she said, she also has two daughters, Kristen, 16, and Rebecca, 14, who were competing, and a third daughter, Colleen, 11, who was too young for the competition, but was serving as a timer.

The students came from as far away as Pennsylvania to compete.

The mission of the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association is to encourage formal speech and debate as a means "for home-schooled students to learn and exercise analytical and oratorical skills, addressing life issues from a Biblical world view in a manner that glorifies God."

Mrs. Au said most of the participants are Christian home-schooled students, but being Christian is not a requirement of the tournament. She said all those participating are required to sign a "peacemakers pledge" that outlines the ethics behind the competition and espouses the organization's Christian views.

Sarah Fiore of Kent, N.Y., was one of the competitors in several different styles of debate. She said she is a senior this year and plans to attend Hillsdale College in Michigan in the fall to study English and possibly to become a teacher.

Ms. Fiore said that when she first got involved with debating, she was afraid to speak.

"I've learned so much from doing this," she said.

Now, confident in her ability to communicate publicly, she said the skills will help her in what she does for work in the future, and will also allow her to speak with others about her religion.

She said she does not plan to become a minister, but would feel confident in speaking about her religion.

She said the debates draw from a wide geographic area and brought her a debate partner from a neighboring state. She and Hannah Weekley of Connecticut met and became friends through the competitions and now work as a team, preparing their presentations through regular telephone meetings.

The tournament was at Gardner High School for the second time, and the school will host a regional tournament in April.

Any of the students who made it to the semifinals in last week's tournament are qualified for the regional tournament.

The national tournament is in June. Winners included: Lincoln/Douglas debating, Matthew Cloutier of Rhode Island; Lincoln-Douglas speaking, Rachel Armstrong of Massachusetts; apologetics, Taylor Gieg of Pennsylvania; dramatic interpretation, Hannah Weekley; duo interpretation, Hannah Weekley and Sarah Fiore; expository, Daniel Lewis of Massachusetts; extemporaneous, Rachel Armstrong, Massachusetts; humorous, Micah Edelblut of New Hampshire; impromptu, Josiah Weekley of Connecticut; open interpretation, Andrew Cass of New Hampshire; original oratory, Andrew Cass; persuasive oratory, Rachel Armstrong of Massachusetts; team policy, Evans Foster of New York and Daniel Lewis of Massachusetts; team policy speakers, Christopher Anderson of Pennsylvania and sweepstakes, Ariel Wolf of Massachusetts.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Matthew Cloutier, seated, takes notes while Iain Armstrong gives his side in a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate at Gardner High School.

PHOTOG: GEORGE BARNES
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 25, 2008
Words:703
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