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Wanna debate? SEB fields one of best teams in state
Members going to Texas for national competition
Southeast Bulloch High School Forensic Debate team captain Derek Cowart, 17, left, and three other teammates qualified to compete in the national debate championships in Houston, Texas during Memorial Day weekend.
Southeast Bulloch High School's Forensic Debate team is used to traveling long distances to compete. With no teams within two hours of the Brooklet school, the team is forced to travel to Cairo, Lincolnton and other places throughout the state for matches.
    Those trips will seem short compared to the one the team is taking in May as they will travel to Houston, Texas to compete in the national championships during Memorial Day weekend.
    "Just going is a big deal," said Phil Oliver, coach of the team. "To be the first team from Bulloch County ever to move from the state to national competition is huge."
    When the announcement was made that teams from Southeast Bulloch were going to be competing, team captain Derek Cowart's reaction wasn't what one would expect.
    "I was tired and I wanted to go to sleep," he said. "We'd been debating almost non-stop for two days."
    The teams of  Cowart and Lexi Grell, and Ashley Akins and Amber Seymour both qualified for the national competition. Unfortunately, the event takes place on the same day as graduation for Southeast Bulloch and Akins will either be the valedictorian or salutatorian and therefore won't be able to compete.
    In their place, the team of Marlan Eller and Aaron Groover, who finished as the first alternate team in the state competition, will compete. Also, Sam Strozzo will represent Southeast Bulloch in the Lincoln-Douglas category.
    There are two different types of competition SEB will be competing in, Oliver said. In the team category, two students from each school debate a topic back and forth, earning points from the judges. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, only one student from each school participates.
    "You've got your best analytical minds in any school on the debate team," Oliver said. "When you're talking about public speaking an analytical thinking, you're going to find them on the debate team."
    The topic for the national championship won't be revealed until two weeks before the competition. At that point, the team will set out to gather as much information as they can on the topic and organize it in preparation for the debate, setting aside almost everything but their school work to get ready.
    However, they have to be prepared to argue either side of an issue as they don't know which side they'll present until a coin toss just before each round.
    "You have to be careful not to get to attached to one side," said Grell.
    Eller said after each round he'll talk with his teammate about the different arguments they faced and decide if they need to do anything differently if they're presented with those arguments again.
    When Oliver started the program nearly a decade ago, he couldn't have envisioned a day when his team would be going for a national championship.
    "For a little old school in a peanut field to find the money to put into this type of academic endeavor is kind of odd," he said. "For the first couple of years, we couldn't get out of the region because they were so far ahead."
    However, slowly they began to win a few tournaments and the students began to see the program as their own, Oliver said. When they would face some of the larger schools from the metro-Atlanta area, opposing teams wouldn't know where they were from.
     But as they continued to improve year after year, soon other schools not only knew where Southeast Bulloch was located, but they knew they were in for a tough match when they squared off, Oliver said.
    Oliver said the ownership of the program by the students continues even after they graduate.
    "We had one student who was at college at George Washington University who called me from the steps of the White House to find out how we did at the state competition," Oliver said. "You realize it's not just about these kids, but it's about the kids who sat in this room years ago."
    Cowart said that unlike other extracurricular activities like sports, debate isn't divided into classifications.
    "We're in there with all the A, AA, AAA, AAAA and private schools," he said. "And schools that have a lot of funding."
    Shortly after learning they'd be competing for the national title, Cowart and Strozzo went before the Bulloch County Board of Education to request money to help pay for their trip. The board voted to allocate $4,000 for the team so they could attend.
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