Dodge City High School debate coach Steve Ray remembers his debating days differently, and recognizes things have changed dramatically since then.
“When I was in high school we had to cut our own evidence cards,” Ray says.
Ray recalls debaters having to go to a public library to find a topic under “Reader’s Guides to Periodicals.” From that they would find magazine and newspaper articles that had appeared on that topic over the past five months. A microfiche was often used. Then if something useful was found, debaters could copy, cut and paste the useful information onto a note card. File boxes were used to contain the evidence cards.
Today, DCHS debaters still use file boxes, but they’re mostly filled with information from the internet. Former DCHS debate coach Laura Woolfolk recalls how drastically things changed with the availability of research database LexisNexis.
“With LexisNexis in [the year] 2000 you had immediate access to information that could help your case,” Woolfolk said. “I was in that era that was straddling the old paper route versus a computer-based gathering of data.”
Debaters can now find information relevant to their topic more quickly and easily than before.
With time, not only has technology improved but interest in debate has increased.
“Various colleges from across the country host debate camps,” Ray said. “A lot of students spend between five and ten thousand dollars going to [them].”
As debate has grown, colleges have taken greater interest, offering scholarship money to students who perform well. In 2012, one DCHS debater received a scholarship to Northwestern University. This could be attributed to debaters’ research skills, competitiveness and ability to think on their feet.
Despite its changes, however, the principles of debate still boil down to the same thing: communication.
“There have been fundamental changes but the bottom line is the kids who know their cases the best are going to be the ones who win, so its still a matter of communication,” Woolfolk said. “It still comes down to the oratory skills of the speaker.”