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Members of Paola High School’s first four-member debate state championship team are: (from left) Mason Escobar, Charlotte George, Jacob Farmer and Creighton Markovich.

PAOLA — When a winter snowstorm derailed the state title hopes of Paola High School’s four-member debate team last year, they were devastated.

They had performed well during the first day of the two-day tournament in Fort Scott, but they weren’t allowed to get a hotel, and about a foot of snow kept them from being able to return. They ended up having to forfeit.

The unlucky circumstances led to two things: a change in the school district’s travel policy that now allows for overnight stays, and a determination instilled in the junior competitors to make it back to the state tournament the following year.

Now seniors, teammates Jacob Farmer and Creighton Markovich did indeed make it back to the state tournament in Fort Scott after winning a regional tournament in December in Tonganoxie. They were joined on the four-member squad this year by teammates Charlotte George and Mason Escobar.

They walked into Fort Scott High School on Friday, Jan. 17, ready to bring home the Kansas State High School Activities Association Class 4A four-speaker debate championship trophy.

“We all set out with the intent to win,” George said. “That was definitely our goal.”

Weather was again an issue, with ice in the forecast for Friday morning, so the students traveled to Fort Scott on Thursday night just to be safe.

The topic this year was the U.S. reducing foreign arms sales, and the PHS debaters have been busy the past several weeks researching, mining articles for key talking points and gathering evidence into boxes of file folders.

During the two-day state tournament, the PHS seniors split into two teams, with Farmer paired with Markovich to debate affirmative and George paired with Escobar to debate negative.

Each team competed in seven rounds each day, and when it was all said and done, their 6-1 records were combined. When the scores were announced, the PHS debaters realized their 12-2 record was tied with Class 4A powerhouse Bishop Miege.

For the “ballots tie-breaker,” all of the judges’ ballots during the two-day competition were reviewed. There are three judges for each match, and a team can win a match without getting support from all of the judges.

The PHS debaters ended up having one more judge’s ballot than Bishop Miege, which won them the tie-breaker 32-31 and the state championship. Buhler finished third.

“It was really exciting,” Farmer said. “We felt confident about most of the tournament. It’s a good feeling.”

Markovich said he and his teammates tried to keep their composure, but the excitement was too much to keep contained.

“We were jumping all over,” he said.

Escobar said it was especially rewarding because all of the team members are seniors.

“It was kind of our last hurrah, and it worked out well,” he said.

The team members were certainly familiar with each other heading into the tournament. Farmer, Markovich and George began debating as freshmen, and Escobar began debating his junior year.

George and Markovich were part of Paola’s four-speaker Frontier League championship team in 2017, and they were joined by Farmer as a part of the Frontier League championship team in 2018 and Escobar as a part of this year’s championship team.

Farmer and George were also both on the PHS forensics team that won a state title in 2019, which was the first for coach Leslie Coats during her 43 years at the high school.

Farmer, in particular, has had a busy few weeks. He traveled with his fellow Paola High School theatre students earlier this month to perform Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” during the Kansas Thespian Festival. During the festival, he was one of only 10 students in the state to earn a $1,000 scholarship.

He also recently earned the rank of Eagle Scout, with his project being the restoration of the comfort station at Paola’s Wallace Park.

The teammates weren’t only happy for themselves, but also for their coach, Duane Lintz, who won his first ever four-speaker state championship in his 31st year coaching high school debaters.

“He had a huge smile on his face,” George said.

Lintz said he did win a two-speaker state tournament title when he was coaching Spring Hill in 1996.

Paola had four teams competing in the two-speaker state tournament this year at Fort Scott Middle School. In the two-speaker tournament, each team debates six preliminary rounds and alternates between debating affirmative and negative each round.

Paola’s four teams were: Dylan George and Samuel Downum, Thomas Harp and James Earlywine, Alex Ure and Max Douglass, and Emma Livengood and Carlie Stallbaumer.

Lintz said Livengood became ill during the tournament and had to drop out, but she and Stallbaumer had earned a 2-1 record at the time. Harp and Earlywine finished with a 2-4 record, and Ure Douglass also ended the tournament 2-4.

Dylan George and Samuel Downum finished preliminary rounds with a 5-1 record, which qualified them for quarterfinals. In a close round, they lost to a Topeka-Hayden team. George and Downum thus ended the tournament earning fourth-place medals.

Editor and Publisher Brian McCauley can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or brian.mccauley@miconews.com.

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