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Published April 08, 2020
With state and local governments throughout Wyoming shutting down businesses and canceling events -- an unfortunate necessity for slowing the spread of COVID-19 -- few sectors of society have been left untouched.
That includes the Wyoming high school debate community, which originally was planning to gather for the State Speech and Debate Tournament March 12-14.
That event was canceled, but high school debaters will still get their chance to compete, thanks to the University of Wyoming debate program. The UW debate program is stepping up to help the Wyoming High School Forensics Association and the Wyoming High School Activities Association host the tournament completely online.
“For these students, state is often the pinnacle of their career -- something they’ve put four years of their heart and soul into,” says UW debate Director Matt Liu. “For them, having it canceled would be like qualifying for the Olympics or the Super Bowl and not getting to go.”
UW debate was uniquely prepared to offer assistance, given its experience hosting tournaments online. Liu and the debate team launched a pilot program during the fall 2019 semester that aimed to offer its own students -- and college debaters throughout the Mountain West -- a more complete season.
“Geographic isolation often means it’s more expensive for us to travel to competitions than other schools,” Liu says. “Adding a single online tournament to the calendar was a way to supplement, not replace, brick-and-mortar tournaments.”
Liu adds that this experience left UW oddly prepared for the new online world, brought on by pandemic-driven social distancing measures. Debate organizations throughout the country and even beyond have reached out, seeking advice on how to plan and execute online tournaments.
He says hosting the state championship will require an enormous amount of time and effort from the UW debate team members.
“But it’s something they all happily volunteered for -- especially knowing what it feels like to have their own season end early,” Liu says. “Many of them were happy to create an opportunity to stop that from happening to their younger counterparts.”
Details for the online tournament are still being hammered out, but it will take place April 22-25 and is designed to not interfere with all students’ online class schedules.
“Working with high school students meant working harder on issues of privacy, safety and security, but those are all things we feel confident about how we are addressing them,” Liu says.
The Wyoming State Speech and Debate Tournament might help prepare debate organizers for high school nationals, which also is expected to move online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.