Cardinal lessons: Springer Middle School students excel against tough competition in speech and debate premiere season

Michael Smith
Springer Middle School speech and debate team after a competition in Crescent on Jan. 25. (L to R): Joci Lathum, Taylor Rose, Mary Hunnicutt, Sammy Hicks, Caylan Dewberry and Abby Hicks.

Springer schools face unique challenges that many other Carter County school systems may not experience. With one of the smallest student bodies of any public school in the region, a single student’s test result can have a wild effect on the system’s average test grades. One might think the extracurricular offerings might also be limited for such a small school system, but a new team of Cardinals might be able to convince them otherwise.

Lucinda Hicks wears many hats for the school system. While she is technically a secretary, Hicks also teaches drama, coaches basketball, and most recently became the school’s first speech and debate coach. The team was formed for a variety of reasons, chiefly the students’ interest in drama.

“We had a huge turnout of student involvement in that, I think we had about 40 kids,” Hicks recalled about her theater classes last year. Considering the entire K-12 student body numbers around 250, she said turnout for drama proved expanded offerings were needed. “You have almost a fifth of the school longing for some kind of performing art,” she said.

Speech and debate is fairly common at larger schools and allows students to compete with spoken words in a variety of arenas. Debates, monologues, foreign extemporaneous speaking, and even duets are judged at competitions. In total, speech and debate students can compete across 11 different events, according to information from the Oklahoma Secondary School Activity Association.

According to a 2006 booklet by Dr. Kevin Minch and published by the National Federation of State High School Associations, student participation in any extracurricular activity has unsurprisingly positive outcomes for the student. But speech and debate programs in particular affect critical thinking, oral competency, reading comprehension, listening, and test taking skills.

Extracurricular activities like speech and debate can also have positive impacts on special needs students, whether that student is gifted, disabled, or at-risk.

Minch said student participation in speech and debate programs go beyond academics and into a student’s social and professional life. “These tend to manifest themselves in better self-esteem and interpersonal skills, but they also appear in the form of better citizenship behaviors,” he wrote.

Those common results of participation are not lost on Hicks, who said the speech and debate program fills an important role in educating Springer children. “We’re preparing them also to be humans that can understand deeper levels of emotions,” she said.

Beyond the surprisingly small size of the school system, the Springer speech and debate team also has surprisingly young competitors. Hicks said the youngest teammate, Caylan Dewberry, is only in fifth grade but has already earned a gold medal. The team’s medal leader, Taylor Rose, has racked up six medals total while only in sixth grade.

“I think that what started out as intended for the high school kids sort of morphed into more of a middle school program, but it’s just because there is a need,” Hicks said.

During a competition earlier this month, seventh grader Abby Hicks and sixth grader Mary Hunnicutt tried their hand at a traditional Lincoln-Douglas debate. While they did not win their competition, they did win several rounds against high school students.

“It’s a lot more difficult than competing against novices,” Abigail Hicks admitted. Hunnicutt said she was nervous before the debate but was excited after just to know she could hold her own against older students.

Only four students participated in the school’s first ever competition and still managed to place third overall. Hicks said 13 students will travel to Comanche High School this weekend, where they will compete against other high schools in class 3A.