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Joe LeDuc’s debating skills open worlds

Thu., May 26, 2011

Joe LeDuc, of St. George’s School, has won many debating trophies for the school. (Dan Pelle)
Joe LeDuc, of St. George’s School, has won many debating trophies for the school. (Dan Pelle)

Joe LeDuc doesn’t mince words. He wields them for the win. The award-winning policy debater from St. George’s recently competed at the 2011 National High School Tournament of Champions with debate partner Jordon Newton, culminating a four-year run as one of the school’s top debaters.

Debate coach Chad Rigsby said it’s impressive – this is the second year LeDuc was invited to compete – because the tournament in Kentucky is prestigious.

“It’s a big deal to go. Only 80 teams get invited nationally out of thousands. It is the best teams in the country,” Rigsby said, explaining that teams need two bids from qualifying tournaments to attend. LeDuc and Newton earned four.

Assistant debate coach Paul Kanellopoulos noted that while most of the prominent national debaters have significant resources to help them succeed, LeDuc has risen to the top without the benefit of private coaching or a program with a huge budget.

“He has not had the economic fortunes that a lot of the most successful high school debaters have. That he was able to rise to such prominence in national debate is really impressive to me,” said Kanellopoulos, adding that LeDuc approaches his challenges, whether in debate or in life, by looking for how he can better his situation.

“I’ve never heard him complain once about his economic situation or his teammates or anything. He is always interested in improving himself as a person,” Kanellopoulos said.

For LeDuc, it’s fun to work hard and improve. He’s also quick to say he wasn’t always a great communicator.

“Being nationally competitive in debate is so intense,” he said. “It has benefited me the most out of any activity I’ve done. When I was younger I was told I was a smart kid. But my grades didn’t ever reflect that. I thought I had good ideas but it was difficult to articulate my ideas. Debate has made me more confident.”

Outside of debate, LeDuc has further honed his communication capabilities through judo, where he’s earned a brown belt, and through student government.

“Judo has given me more time to teach people. That was challenging at first,” he said. “It was difficult to communicate complicated techniques.”

He found similar challenges in Associated Student Body and attributes some of his growth to advice from Rigsby. “He taught me a lot in terms of interacting with people – that I need to understand the context. You have to talk to students in a different way than with the administration. I’m definitely better at that.”

That dedication to self-improvement has impressed his coaches.

“Joe is really interested in figuring out how to be a good person. He uses his education as a way to improve himself and to help people around him,” said Rigsby. “He dedicated most of his high school experience to getting good at debate. He treats it as a job.”

Kanellopoulos agreed, adding that while many debaters work hard, LeDuc took it a step further by actively helping his team.

“Aside from his work ethic, he is a genuinely a nice and caring person. Most people spend all their time improving themselves as a debater and leave it to the coaches to develop teammates, but Joe has made a sustained commitment to helping debaters around him and not just himself,” he said.

LeDuc said his positive approach to life and learning started after a close friend moved away during middle school and gave him the book “Thus Spake Zarathustra” by Friedrich Nietzsche. “I was more angry then. Reading that exposed me to the idea that there are different ways to think about the world and you shouldn’t get bogged down with negative emotions. There is a lot of beauty in life.”

It’s an attitude he’ll take to Wake Forest next year, where he’ll debate and study political science and psychology.

And according to Rigsby, LeDuc’s success is likely to continue with that work ethic and outlook. “The sky is the limit for him. He’s one of those success stories that make people really happy. He got a scholarship to college because he tried really hard to get good at something.”

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