arguably the best.
Four South Eugene High School students are making a name for themselves in the world of speech and debate in Oregon, but they'd probably argue otherwise.
Sophomores Leo Saenger and Henry Lininger, and juniors Ada Sprengelmeyer and Alex Leve, all 16, have qualified to compete at the highest level of two different high school debate competitions in April, after only four months of successful tournaments.
Lininger and Saenger make up the South Eugene policy debate team. They will compete in a prestigious national debate competition called the "Tournament of Champions" at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.
"I'm very excited," Saenger said. "It's not something I expected to happen this year. There aren't a lot of sophomore teams. It's a lot of work, but it's a fun experience."
To compete in the Tournament of Champions, applicants must win or place high in at least two national or regional tournaments, which Lininger and Saenger already have done.
Policy debate is different than most forms of debate. It involves extensive research before competitions to dive deep into one topic determined by the National Speech and Debate Association.
This year's policy debate topic focuses on domestic surveillance by the federal government. For half of their rounds, debaters are assigned to argue for reducing surveillance. During the other half, debaters will argue for maintaining present levels of surveillance.
Sprengelmeyer and Leve are set to compete on April 21-23 in the 2016 OSAA Speech and Debate Championship for parliamentary debate at Western Oregon University in Monmouth.
In parliamentary debate, participants receive their debate topic 15 minutes before speaking. The debates require participants to be well read and up to date on current news events.
State finals are the highest level of competition for parliamentary debate.
"The tournaments are the best part," Sprengelmeyer said. "In parli (parliamentary debate) you don't have to prepare a lot, and you finally get to use everything you've been learning and practicing."
"We do a lot of reading the news, practicing debating and getting comfortable with arguing and being up there," Leve said.
Speech and debate are official school activities, sanctioned by Oregon School Activities Association, but they are not funded by the Eugene School District. Fourteen South Eugene High students are on the debate team.
The four students said their parents pay for their travel and other expenses. The entire debate team asked the South Eugene student government to help with funding, and the team has had bake sales.
The policy debate team has competed in 14 tournaments so far this school year and plans to compete in at least two more before they head to the championship.
A round of debate usually takes about two hours, and a tournament on the national circuit typically has nine or 10 rounds, said Tom Lininger, a volunteer debate coach for South Eugene who is also Henry Lininger's father.
Saenger said some debates end up lasting to the early morning hours.
"One time we got to finals at 12:30 a.m.," Saenger said.
Henry Lininger said that while the tournaments are rewarding, they're also exhausting.
"It's just really mentally taxing at that point (the end of the tournament)," he said. "You get up at like 6 a.m., then research and debate all day. It's hard, but I like it because it's like a verbal game of chess that's based on persuasion."
Lininger and Saenger say they research their policy topic for about two hours per night and use resources such as Google Scholar, the John E. Jaqua Law Library and online articles.
Lininger and Saenger qualified at the New York City Invitational in October and at the Gonzaga University Conway Classic in Spokane, each of which drew hundreds of competitors from several states.
Sprengelmeyer and Leve were accepted for
state in January after placing second at three regional competitions and third at another. To qualify early, students only have to place high in two regional competitions where at least 15 schools entered the competition with a minimum of 15 participants in their event.
Sprengelmeyer and Leve exceeded that requirement by placing high in tournaments at South Coast, Silverton, Forest Grove and Ashland.
The parliamentary duo is still required to compete in the district competition in April, but how well they score there won't matter, as they've already been deemed state-worthy.
"This weekend will be our 10th competition this year," Sprengelmeyer said. "And it takes up a lot of time, but I enjoy it more than anything else. And the competitions make us better, so it's worth it."
While all four debaters said their activity of choice is difficult, they said the time spent was worth it.
"You get kind of burned out, but that's part of the fun of it," Saenger said. "And it's really useful for every other part of school. It makes writing essays really easy."
said they have high hopes for their respective tournaments.
"The tournaments are great but even if we don't win, it's still such a valuable experience," Leve said. "Even just spending time researching these topics and understanding them inspires us to learn more and really make a difference in the world."