An Inside Look of the Duval Urban Debate League, Part I

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My involvement in Forensics began when I was a Sophomore in high school.  Being rubbish at acting, and unable to get cast in a play, I decided to join my school’s Speech Team.  I had several friends who were active members in both Speech and Theatre.  They enjoyed Speech.  Could not quite explain to me what it was (“competitive speaking and acting…sort of”), but their obvious jovial nature aroused when speaking of Forensics was plenty to transform me into a Speech Kid. 

Three years later I qualified to compete at Sectionals, was a Team Captain, and had sharpened my acting/analysis skills so I was successful in high school drama.  Despite some strain on the team my Senior year, I had loved the experience.  Even my decision to attend Bradley University was influenced by the knowledge that if I continued involvement in Forensics I would be competing on one of the Nation’s strongest teams. 

Although I might not have joined Bradley’s Speech Team, opting instead to pursue my dream of obtaining a Minor in Theatre, Forensics has been a constant source of growth, development, and confidence since when I entered my first round to perform a scene from Alice in Wonderland.  I could not imagine having not been in Speech.  Where would I be?  Who would I be?  If people truly are a composition of their past experiences and what was learned through them, I doubt I would be who and where I am now.  Frightening.  It is impossible to know how a lack of Speech would have transformed my life.  What is possible to measure is the positive influence it has had.  Every student should be so fortunate. 

But the fact is they are not.  I have no idea the scale of high school’s with teams.  With The National Forensic League, at least one State run Speech and Debate League per State, and various other leagues Forensics is strong.  Yet, there are still an enormous amount of students without access to Forensics.  Especially with the current economy, school’s are being forced to make challenging decisions to cut “unnecessary” programs.  And Speech and Debate can become expensive with travel costs.  Couple that with a small program and disaster occurs. 

There are sources of good though.  Educators and Forensics alum know of Speech and Debate’s benefits.  So much so that there are independent organizations that exist to provide students with access to Forensics.  For instance the National Association of Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) is a network of Urban Debate Leagues across the country.  Started in 1997, or 1985 if including the first Urban Debate League ever from Atlanta, the NAUDL recognizes Debate’s importance for students.  Debate has been linked to a higher GPA, a higher chance of attending college, a lesser chance of dropping out of high school, increased communication skills, improved analytical and critical-thinking skills, more confidence/motivation/community awareness, et cetera for most students who participate (Urban Debate Value).  As you read there are currently over five-hundred high schools which are part of the NAUDL.  The number continues to grow with newly formed Urban Debate Leagues across the country.

Leagues like The Duval Urban Debate League (DUDL) of Jacksonville, Florida.  The DUDL is “a public-private partnership operated by the Duval Urban Debate League Advisory Board…a private group of civic and business leaders, and [the] Duval County Public Schools” (About). The goal can be simply stated: provide a league and activity that can help a child achieve both character and educational development.  The means to do so are not so easy.  Finding backers to fund the League, train and organize teachers and parents to operate tournaments, teach educators and adults how to coach Debate, getting the community and students involved, integrating a Debate course into the curriculum, and so on.  Forming an Urban Debate League is not an undertaking for the weak.  Yet, the DUDL has not succumbed and is a growing League after only being formed in September of the 2009-2010 school year.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to speak with a leader of the DUDL, Jermyn Shannon El.  But more of that in Part II.

Thus concludes Part I.  Here you can find Part II.  


Works Cited

“About.” Duval Urban Debate League, n.d. Web. 25 May 2010.

“Urban Debate Value.” National Association of Urban Debate Leagues, n.d. Web. 25 May 2010.


This article is the beginning of a long line of new developments in urban debate. The enthusiasm and passion displayed by students, educators, and the Duval County School Board has set the stage for other school districts in Florida and Georgia to develop urban debate leagues as well. Next year look for more students right here on ForCOM seeking new opportunities to spruce up their debate cases, or simply to gain an edge for the next big debate tournament.

That's FANTASTIC!  It's amazing how events in one area can spread to influence the events in other's.  Congrats! 

It is pretty trippy to imagine who you would be if "Factor X" wasn't a part of your life (in this case Forensics).  I doubt I would be as confident as I am speaking publicly if I hadn't been in Speech.  Not to mention the analytical skills I picked-up studying all those scripts for Duet.   

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