John Spurlock, left, and Keenan Harris of McClatchy High took first place in the policy debate division of a national debate competition. The debate topic was whether federal spending on transportation infrastructure should be increased.

McClatchy seniors beat the odds to win national debate title

Published: Tuesday, May. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 7, 2013 - 8:30 am

There's no debating this: Two C.K. McClatchy High School seniors have won a national debate contest against great odds.

McClatchy's John Spurlock and Keenan Harris took first place in the policy debate division at the national Tournament of Champions. Usually, private schools with big budgets win the event.

But the two public school students took top honors in what is sometimes called the Super Bowl of high school debate.

Spurlock was also named the top speaker at the tournament, held April 27-29 at the University of Kentucky.

"The magnitude of this win cannot be overstated," said McClatchy debate coach Seth Blackmon. "We were competing against schools that have budgets upward or in excess of six figures. C.K. McClatchy's debate budget is at best four figures."

In addition, debate is an after-school program at McClatchy, Blackmon said in an email.

"I couldn't be more proud of these young men," said Blackmon.

"They outworked the competition, including schools with numerous paid coaches, to achieve a victory that is on par with the Super Bowl or World Series."

Spurlock, 17, said the secret was early preparation.

"Because a lot of the private academies that we were competing against can have upward of 10 coaches who will all be helping to prepare them, we figured to get a leg up on the competition we would have to start early in November," said Spurlock.

Competing in a field of 70 high school teams, the McClatchy teens participated in 11 two-hour debate rounds over three tournament days.

Harris, 17, said his team wanted to prove that public schools produce good debaters and can succeed in a tournament usually dominated by schools with big coaching staffs.

"What we feel is important is hard work and showing teams like us that are without gigantic coaching staffs or huge travel budgets that success is possible," Harris said.

This year's policy debate topic was: "Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States."

Students spend a year researching and arguing the subject. They must be able to debate both sides of the topic, pro and con.

Spurlock is headed to the University of California, Berkeley, and Harris will attend Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Call The Bee's Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079. Follow him on Twitter @Lindelofnews.

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