ASMSA earns speech, debate charter status
The Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts has been designated as a charter member of the National Speech and Debate Association — the highest honor the organization offers.
ASMSA debate teacher and coach of the debate team, Tonya Reck, said the charter member status shows that the team is growing not only in numbers but in participation and achievements. Students started the team just over a year and a half ago.
The school was among 22 nationwide to receive the status, which is given after students and coaches earn merit points.
“I am so excited for these kids,” said Reck. “This team was started by students even before I had this job. They were advocating to have a debate team here and so the school has been tremendously supportive of that, every step of the way, and they’ve made all this happen.”
She said the team was born out of students’ desire to debate competitively, noting, “Debate students are the heart and soul of this team and everything we do.”
Starting in early September 2021, the team competed in its first tournament just a few weeks later.
“The students have worked fast and furious. They have learned to research deep, think fast and talk smart. We built this team from scratch. It’s been quite a journey.
We’ve been drinking from the fire hose for most of this journey,” she said.
She said the debate circuit in the state is a “real community” and that it was a huge difference when they began competing in person this year after competing online before due to COVID-19. The team, which travels across the state, competes in seven different styles of debate: Big Questions, Lincoln-Douglas, Big Questions, Congressional Debate, Arkansas Student Congress, International Public Debate Association, and Public Forum.
The team just finished its NSDA district tournament, in which ASM
SA senior Madison Arenaz qualified to compete in the Lincoln-Douglas Debate this summer at the 2023 National Speech & Debate Tournament in Phoenix.
ASMSA junior Kuhno Lee, of Little Rock, said debate for him means trying out new things.
“This was my first year competing in debate and national speech-related things,” he said. “It was hard work and lots of research, and getting experience in these kind of things. For me, it was just researching and researching and researching about the topics that I was supposed to be debating about.”
This not only includes preparation for his topic, he noted, but being able to foresee what his opponents will be thinking about.
Lee’s classmate Avery Binuya, a junior from Lamar, does Congressional Debate and plans to be a political science major.
“We’ve racked up some pretty good trophies, so we’re pretty proud of that,” she said.
While it is nice to win trophies, however, she said what is most rewarding is seeing ASMSA become revered in tournaments.
“Especially in congressional debate, seeing that respect and hearing from other competitors saying that they need to strategize against an ASMSA student who is in the same chamber as them, is probably — does not materialize — but once you’re in chamber, it’s very prominent that ASMSA’s becoming a threat in the debate world. … I’m pretty proud of this team,” she said.
Binuya, who is active in ASMSA’s student body government, will be going to Girls State in May and plans to attend an International Affairs summer camp this summer.
ASMSA junior student from Jonesboro, Lindon Mixon, said he enjoys talking with other students around the state about the issues seen in society today.
“I do congressional with (Binuya) and commercial debate has by far the most topics of any of the debates that you prepare ahead of time for,” said Mixon, who won Best Bill at Arkansas Student Congress 2022. “If you could put enough time into every single topic, you would win every debate, but no one has enough time to put in to make sure they everything fully prepared. … So much of what you do in (congressional) is getting enough there that you can do well, and making sure that you have that for every single topic that could possibly come up. And similarly being able to when you don’t have enough there, make it up on the fly and make sure that you can ad lib anything that you don’t have written down in your notes.”
Reck said resilience is everything in speech and debate.
“It is an intellectual risk to step into a debate round, and you get up and you present your case, and the next person comes up and says, ‘No, you’re wrong.’ And then you’ve got to come back and rebuild that case and let those ideas interact … let your ideas face some pushback. It’s a risk and some people aren’t willing to do that necessarily because it’s scary for somebody to come back and tell you you’re wrong. And likewise, you’re going to challenge somebody else that your ideas are not necessarily correct either,” she said.
She said she is most proud of how hard the students work, as well as the growth the students have shown in being able to put themselves out there and learn new skills.
“One thing that an ASMSA student is never afraid of is just lots and lots of research, and not stopping until that research is done, and they’re prepared,” she said.