In a small basement boxing ring two young debaters squared off against two Washington state senators Wednesday night.
The second-year event, Rhetoric in the Ring, raised money for the Rogers High School debate team.
The first debate featured Sen. Michael Baumgartner against former Rogers debater and current Washington State University freshman James Pearson. The topic: backpacks versus lockers. Pearson focused on the practicality of backpacks over lockers, while Baumgartner took a more emotional tack, ultimately equating lockers with American manufacturing and values.
“I say, God bless America and God bless lockers,” Baumgartner said in closing.
The second debate featured Sen. Andy Billig against Rogers high school senior Hana Knowlton. The topic: Harry Potter versus the Hunger Games.
Knowlton focused on the barbarity of potentially having to kill your best friend, while Billig argued for the practical survival skills the Hunger Game teaches.
“It’s a challenge when you haven’t seen the movies,” Billig said. “But, it didn’t matter what the topic was … the prowess of the Rogers students would have prevailed.”
While the event topics and format are lighthearted, it has a substantial impact on the Rogers debate team, third-year coach Cara Heath said. Last year’s Rhetoric in the Ring raised $1,000 for the team. That money, Heath said, paid for the team to go to debate competitions throughout the remainder of the school year. Although there is no cost to attend the debate, local businesses do donate, she said.
“It’s been a fun program,” she said. “They’re a good group of kids who always bring something new to the table.”
The event was conceived in 2014, founder Jim Hedemark said. Hedemark met Heath while golfing. They started talking about debate, in which they both were interested, and soon they were brainstorming ways to raise money for the newly formed Rogers High School team.
The debate was held in the the Howard Street Gym, an amateur boxing gym in downtown Spokane.
“I’m always looking for ways to prop up kids that are just trying to work hard at their studies,” Hedemark said.
Last year’s event pitted students against Spokane City Council members Ben Stuckart and Mike Fagan. Pearson, who also competed last year, said debating senators was different.
“Well, it was a step up from last year,” Pearson said. “It was kind of intimidating.”
The Rogers debate team has eight students, Heath said – double the size of last year’s team.
“It funds the entire season,” she said of Rhetoric in the Ring.
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