SHS sophomore claims school’s first district title

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 14, 2008

COURTLAND—You may want to think twice before arguing with Kelsey Butler.

The 15-year-old sophomore has set a precedent at Southampton High School by becoming the first debater at the school to take home the district title.

In addition, she won second place in the Lincoln-Douglas Debate at the Region I tournament in King George—almost a first place, as both judges awarding the deciding point to her Courtland High School (Spotsylvania County) opponent.

Nonetheless, the varsity debater qualified for the Virginia AA Tournament.

Butler, the daughter of Teresa Butler of Sedley and James Butler of Franklin, said she didn’t have any idea what to anticipate when she joined the team.

&uot;It’s not what I expected, but I like it,&uot; she said, adding that initially, it &uot;sounds like fun, arguing.&uot;

The team just began competing last year under the leadership of Coach Todd Kessler. Prior to that, he said, the Southampton debaters were really more like club.

Butler said, &uot;This is the first year we’ve worked together as a real debate team.&uot;

Her coach describes her style as persuasive and aggressive, qualities that have been developed since last school year.

&uot;I competed last year,&uot; Butler said, &uot;but I didn’t have the fundamentals down.&uot;

Southampton has been up against some stiff competition this year, and in many instances, according to Kessler, has given its opponents a run for their money.

&uot;They have gone up against some of the best in the state,&uot; he said. &uot;A lot of the schools we face are AAA schools.

&uot;Poquoson, for example, has won districts two years in a row. We derailed their dynasty.&uot;

Kessler said that the team has captured awards, including a second at a Virginia Beach tournament and a couple of first place slots in visual awards.

In addition, &uot;We usually leave every tournament with two or three debaters getting a top four trophy,&uot; he said.

Competitors know what the topic will be prior to the competition, usually having one month in advance to research the subject— preparing cases that will confirm, and negate the topic. The argument at the state competition will be &uot;Hate Crime Enhancements are Unjust in the United States.&uot;

According to Butler, judges will look at how well they present their cases, how well they challenge their opponent’s argument and how well they defend their own position.

&uot;We have a certain format we have to follow,&uot; she said.

Despite technology, much of the fact-finding during research isn’t done electronically.

&uot;We use a lot of books,&uot; Butler said, noting other library media and the Internet are reliable resources as well.

Kessler said the team practices a few times a week, and added, &uot;I’ll expose them to as many arguments as possible before competition.&uot;

The coach said that, compared to sports competitions, the great thing about debating honors is that it opens doors for academic scholarships.

&uot;It boosts their self-confidence,&uot; he said. &uot;Their public speaking skills just skyrocket.

&uot;It enhances vocabulary, speeds up train of thought, and keeps them up to date on current events.&uot;

One of Butler’s team members, John Clifton, the 16-year-old son of Victoria Otis and Jack Koptis of Courtland, said debating was intimidating at first.

&uot;I finally got into it and after I started working the cases, I found it was something I could do,&uot; he said. &uot;This is the main club that I am in.&uot;

Butler, also a participant in theater and People to People Ambassador program.