State champions 
make us proud

For many of us, public speaking is the stuff of nightmares. For Wyatt Hurt, it’s a stepping stone to a bright future.

“A lot of students are uncomfortable with college admissions interviews,” said Hurt, a senior at Central High School. “For me it was no sweat at all because it’s what I do all the time.”

Hurt is deciding whether to attend Stanford, Harvard or Yale this fall. He credits his experience in speech in debate and the influence of his coach, Anthony Bichler, for equipping him with the skills to forge a stellar academic career.

He and teammate Ryan Larsen are state champions in the 2017 Colorado Speech Tournament, along with Palisade High School juniors Ethan Bollinger and Kaleb Hawkins.

After numerous runner-up finishes, Bichler finally has a state championship to show for his 19 years as Central’s speech and debate coach. He’s stepping down this year.

The National Speech and Debate Association maintains a database of points earned through competitions. Bichler has accumulated the equivalent of 17,000 debate victories, making him the winningest coach on the Western Slope. He was recognized as the Western Colorado District’s Coach of the Year.

Winning a state championship in any field is quite an accomplishment. For athletes, it’s a validation of hard work and commitment. That’s no less true for speech and debate competitors, but they develop skills that are more sustainable over the long term. How many D51 athletes will make a living playing a sport? Maybe a handful. But the students who excel at mental gymnastics and crafting a cogent argument are tomorrow’s thought leaders and policy makers.

Speech and debate fosters moderate thinking. It forces competitors to consider all sides of an argument. A flip of a coin determines which position a team will take on the issue at hand, so competitors have to be prepared to argue either side.

In an era of increasing political divisiveness and hyperpartisanship, it’s heartening to know that some of the state’s most level-headed students hail from District 51 schools.

Palisade High School teacher and speech and debate coach Meaghan McDowell — a former student of Bichler’s — summed up the triumph of the state champions.

“Winning is great, but what’s better is seeing that they’re becoming better people, becoming more open-minded and creative,” she said. “Speech and debate is a spectator sport, and it is probably one of the best formats and tools in any student’s and adult’s arsenal in creating a world that we all long to be a part of.”

We congratulate the champs and McDowell and Bichler for leading them to victory. Bichler’s legacy isn’t about championships, but the minds he molded along the way.


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