An Interview with excellence: Ben and Devin of Parkview High School

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Last summer in Birmingham, Alabama stars did fall in the Deep South Distract and new ones shot out to become event winners and top teams. From June 14th to the 19th competition was fierce. Yet, despite individuals battling through the ranks to become the top performers and speakers of the year, the team wins were a season-long struggle. Remember, ALL cumulative points from the season count to determine which teams rank the strongest OVERALL.

Parkview High School of Springfield, MO has proven year after year that they are a team to admire. Parkview has steadily risen up the top ten teams list, notably going from their 7th place rank in 2007, to 6th in 2008, and now 5th in 2009 (NOTE: there was a tie for third so one could argue Parkview holds the rank of 4th—NFL National results list Parkview as 5th (
)). Led by Mrs. Nancy Wedgeworth, Parkview continues to be the standard of forensics and debate in Missouri. As stated by the team’s website they have “qualified more students to the national tournament than any other school in Missouri,” have “qualified over 130 students to the national tournament in the last 45 years,” and have “dozens of state finalists and more state champions than any other school in Missouri” (

The Forensics Community has been fortunate enough to attain an interview with two members of Parkview HS. Ben Campbell has been on the team for three years (qualifying his sophomore year in Policy and also his junior year in Congress) and is finishing up his fourth as the President of Parkview Speech and Debate. Devin Kelsey is also a senior this year and placed in the Top 20 in Lincoln-Douglas Debate his junior year. Below is the Q&A that ensued:

FC: How did you and your team react when you learned the team was ranked 5th in the Nation?

Ben: I was excited, but coming into my freshman year, we were still top ten. I hate to say it’s something I've become numb to, but I know Mrs. Wedgeworth, Devin, or I won't be satisfied till we take the number one spot.

Devin: Well, I remember pumping my fist in the air and yelling "YES!" I was watching the results on the TV in my hotel room alone at the time.

FC: Describe the Nationals experience. What were rounds like? How intense and skilled were the competitions? Were there any surprises or upsets that shocked you? How gargantuan was this event? What is it like competing at this level? Was your whole team allowed to go or only select team members?

Ben: Obviously not everyone is allowed to go to Nationals. You have to qualify for it at the district tournament. Again, being there my sophomore year in a far more competitive event, I was kind of numb to it this year. Over the past two years, coming from a competitive district, some competitors were at the level, or below the level of people I debated at districts. However, some people were far better than I was accustomed to. A team or two from policy this year, and one particular congressman who got second this year comes to mind. The overall experience though is pretty fun; you get a lot of free promo stuff, and get to see sights you wouldn't normally see. Not to mention the amazing food in Birmingham. Life-changing BBQ really.

Devin: Well, the event was a culmination of everything I've seen in debate before. There were a hundreds of people competing in Lincoln-Douglas Debate from across the country. There were those who debated LD like LD, Policy, or even PuF. The key to success was the ability to not have one specific style. Depending on what the judges wanted to hear, I could speed about dehumanization and extinction (something I'd never done before EVER) or I could talk so slow that a flow judge might have gotten irritated. Adaptability. That's the key. Nobody's style is perfect and all judges are different. Always be able to change on a dime. Also, only the National qualifiers could go to Nationals.

FC: Getting to Nationals and succeeding is a triumph many never experience. Your team's path there most not have been completely without hiccups. What were some hardships your team endured and how did you get through them?

Ben: My biggest problem this year was going back to lay judged. I had been to camp before, but my hypothesis for policy entering this year was to make as smart as arguments as possible, not necessarily worrying about the intellect of lay judges or not. The hardest thing was re-adjusting myself.

Devin: The trick about hiccups is not to focus on them. Always focus on the goal. If there were any problems that occurred, I didn't think about them or care about them to the point that I can't remember a single one. Distractions don't do anything for you. Remember that everybody will experience some and you can get through them just as anybody else can.

FC: Your team has gradually been climbing the Top Ten Teams list since 2007, going from a rank of 7th, to 6th, and now 5th. There has to be something extraordinary happening at practices to account for this fantastic consistency. What is the season's practice schedule like for your speech and debate team? Are there any unique techniques you and your coaches use while at rehearsal--not trying to steal secrets or anything, but excellence stems from rehearsal!

Ben: Obviously there are some things and coaching techniques I can't necessarily share. Our coaching staff is usually available Monday - Wednesday from 3 to 5, then Thursday and Friday 3 to 8 (ish). Except of course the more important tournaments. Usually the more competitive students work beyond these hours, sometimes putting in as much as 40 hours a week towards debate. But practice isn't as important, after all, you can practice all you want, but if you're practicing the wrong things, or the same things over, you're not going to be doing as well as you could. I generally find that finding new arguments and rehearsing them once or twice is better than doing one argument over and over. Also - individual work is more important I'd say, at least in debate or extemp style events. You can work on formatting and structural advantages all day, but if you don't know what you're saying, then you obviously won't succeed.

Devin: There are two key aspects for why Parkview Speech and Debate does so well. Firstly, we work together. Varsity and Novice debaters will work together for hours on end, all with the same goal in mind. This sort of cohesiveness, where even the Novices will play Devil's Advocate with the Varsity ideas creates soundproof logic. Secondly, we work hard. We have an amazing coach who pushes us to our limits constantly. We don't stop until we are 110% ready.

FC: Both of you had a stellar previous season (Ben recently qualified for Congress and Devin ranked in the top 20 for L-D debate). Were there certain things you did as individuals to help step-up your game and improve upon previous seasons?

Ben: My main advice is be proactive, if your coaches aren't helping you much, go outside your school for help. Or, if you have a good coaching staff as we've been privileged to, to utilize them as much as possible - or, more importantly, stay coachable. There is always going to be someone better at what you do than you, even if you won state last year, or won nationals the year previous - true debaters and competitors keep searching for advice and exercise all their resources. See also 1 - individual work and knowing your stuff makes you more likely to win. Devin is the best LD'er I know, because he knows philosophy better than anyone I know.

Devin: One of the main things that resulted in my success at Nationals was my work ethic. When summer started until the day before Nationals, I worked for hours and hours a day. I had a list of things that I had to do (even the tiniest goals were put on there) that I would work to try to achieve. From trying to "Find a piece of evidence that says X" to "Come up with an analogy to destroy Y", there were dozens of things to do on those lists. When you work for 8 hours a day and then it turns out that you have realized more things to write on the "List of what to do" than you have taken off, you know you're making progress. Don't ever think that you're "ready." That's what results in not being prepared enough. There is always more to do.

FC: How is your team preparing for the upcoming season?

Ben: Getting scripts, cutting files, reading, oratory drafts, discussions, the usual. Really, debate work is debate work.

Devin: Work, work, work, work. Also, the Varsity have to work with the Novices a lot. I've already started working with a few of them and we've only had 4 days of school.

FC: Has your school/community recognized the team formally for its accomplishments? Or does the school/community plan to? How does the student population view the Speech and Debate team? Did they cheer for the team during the season?

Ben: I think the students may recognize our accomplishments more than our administration sadly. Year after year we're competitive, and our budget remains the same size. For the most part, there isn't a whole lot of pride in our community for our program in general. Usually there is a news paper article after nationals over those who do extremely well.

Devin: The local news has recognized us a number of times. I'd also say that Parkview High School has some of the greatest School Spirit of any school in the country. I've been congratulated by more than one person I never talk with for doing well in Debate the previous weekend.

FC: A team that scores this well must be close. How tight-knit is your team, and how did that help your team reach Nationals?

Ben: Devin is one of my best friends, and I generally don't associate with kids outside of the squad on a consistent basis. As I said, they're my family.

Devin: As I said before, our team is very close and we work together a lot. We all know everybody and I have hung out with 90% of the team (numbering around 60-70 people) outside of school regularly. Most of my best friends are on debate and it makes working on preparation much easier to be able to prep with good friends.

FC: Devin, you are now a senior. What type of leadership role do you expect to fulfill in the upcoming season?

Devin: Well, I want to try to help the Novices out as much as I can. I've done every event (well) except DI and Policy. So, I plan on helping every Novice in almost every event. For example, last year I ranked in the top 20 in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, so I know my philosophy VERY well. Yet, this year I'm doing Public Forum Debate, which I've done well in the only time I did it. So far this year, I've been helping/discussing/researching both debate events with my squadmates. Even though I'm not doing LD, I've been reading through my Philosophy collection, highlighting passages for my friends.

FC: Ben, you are also a senior and President of Parkview Speech and Debate (kudos!). Why are you best qualified to President, what are some duties you have, and how stoked are you to be that respected and accomplished?

Ben: Either Devin and I would have been a good choice. Being a repeat national qualifier, a state champion, and a generally open person doesn't help. It generally means I get more say in decision making, planning tournaments or agendas, or things similar. Also means I get to run our tournament.

FC: Every year your team keeps advancing and proving how fabulous they are. What are your predictions for the upcoming season?

Ben: I think we have a good opportunity to move up to at least 3rd, if not staying consistent. I hate to speculate though.

Devin: Well, last year a core strength of our squad was in underclassmen who are still in Debate. So, we still have those individuals plus a new group of like 50 Novices (I know it's our largest Novice squad ever....though not sure on the exact number). We're aiming for the stars with this one.

Thanks again to Ben and Devin of Parkview HS and good luck to them and their team for the current season!

jackdorson116's picture
jackdorson116 (not verified)

I love that even though this team is H U G E they still are mostly close, tight friends, lol

Every team should be that way!

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