Central speech and debate team ranks highest on Western Slope

Timbre Sheppard’s dream would be some people’s worst nightmare: speaking in front of 3,000 people.

Sheppard, 17, and the rest of the 40-member Central High School speech and debate team hope to make it to the national speech championship this June.

First, they’re shooting for a win at the state tournament in March and top scores at national- and state-qualifying contests beginning this month.

The high school sponsored a speech and debate tournament Friday night. The tournament continues today.

Central has the highest-ranked speech and debate team on the Western Slope, and ranks seventh in the state. The fact that the top six teams are from the Denver area doesn’t intimidate Central debater Josh Gardner, 16.

“Just because they’re bigger doesn’t mean they’re going to beat you,” Gardner said, adding that winning is more about preparation and who is on their game than school size.

Central’s secret to success is practice, research and dedication, Gardner said.

In addition to one four-hour and one two-hour meeting each week, teammates set up meetings with debaters participating in similar categories, which range from political debate to philosophy to reciting poetry.

Team members also spend plenty of time researching and keeping up on current events year-round.

“You’ll spend a week on a case you’ll debate for 30 minutes, but it’s worth it,” Gardner said.

Winning a round feels good, but learning to speak eloquently in public and stay informed on issues and news events has its own rewards, 18-year-old Central speech and debate captain Chris Cochran said.

“You’re more eloquent, and you can form an honest political opinion,” Cochran said.

Speech and debate season lasts from October through February or March, depending on how far the team progresses in matches.

The team has several young members, which hopefully will mean more wins to come in the next couple years, Gardner said. There’s a trick they’ll have to remember to stay calm in front of that large crowd, though.

“You have to realize it’s just like speaking to another person,” Gardner said.


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