Brookings students are pros at the pros and cons

High school debate team has standout season

By John Kubal

The Brookings Register

Posted 4/12/24

BROOKINGS — “We have had an amazing year, placing at several invitationals, winning the state championship in public forum debate and qualifying several kids for the National Speech and …

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Brookings students are pros at the pros and cons

High school debate team has standout season


BROOKINGS — “We have had an amazing year, placing at several invitationals, winning the state championship in public forum debate and qualifying several kids for the National Speech and Debate Association national tournament,” explained Sally Pies, who is in her final year as head debate coach at Brookings High School. Justifiably proud of her charges, she noted that later this month they will celebrate a first for Brookings: “We have also qualified two teams for the Tournament of Champions competition in Lexington, Kentucky.”

A quartet of her “debate community,” all seniors graduating this spring, visited with The Brookings Register recently and talked about some of their memorable moments in debate and lasting effects it has had and will continue to have on their lives.

Nancy Yang’s forte is congressional debate: “We debate pieces of legislation.” With that succinct answer, she makes it sound simple. She noted that in debate, one “learns more about the world and how it works when we talk to each other. … Ideally, you have to think of things on the spot and I really find that enjoyable, finding information and how to work with it and responding to and talking with other people. Also it’s important to be exposed to a lot of information and a lot of issues and the facts behind them.”

Igen Nyawanda likes public forum, with its two-member teams; one pro, one con, with who gets what determined by a coin flip: “It’s definitely interesting for some topics,” Nyawanda noted. “It’s a lot of research. It takes a lot of time to find things for both sides; I think that’s the hardest part.”

Topics are known in advance. One topic he argued last year that proved challenging was the forgiving of student loan debt. “It’s really easy to say ‘yes’ to that; most students would agree we should forget student loan debt. It’s pretty hard to say, ‘No. We shouldn’t forget student loan debt.’ It’s hard to find something that works for that.” He had the opportunity to argue both sides of the issue.  

Xander Hof ‘s forte is Lincoln-Douglas debate. He explained that it’s “decidedly different from public forum debate.” It’s a solo undertaking: no partner, no team, one-on-one. “It’s also more philosophical and moral than public forum,” he added. “So you see a lot more arguments, you see people with philosophical arguments. Another really big thing that’s different in L-D is something called the ‘value in criteria.’ The value is what you try to achieve. It’s a unique aspect of L-D.”

A recent L-D debate Hof took part in addressed the substantial reduction of a U.S. military presence in the Middle East. Considered in that debate were philosophical arguments that touched upon: “life, justice, social welfare, topics like that.”

Each debater must argue sides of the issue. “You can’t get out of it,” Hof explained. “You typically do one side and then go around and do the other, back and forth.”

He and Nyawanda explained the controlled timing of the back-and-forth speeches driving debate. While a debater can “go shorter” and not use all their time, when time is up, there is no going overtime. A debater can be cut off in mid-sentence.  

Albert Shore’s forte is also public forum debate. He finds it to be “more fun than L-D.” In addition to debate, he also competes in extemporaneous speaking and student congress. Shore is a two-time qualifier to the national tournament and a 2034 Tournament of Champion qualifier.

Pies praises Shore for his humility, sense of humor and outlook on life. She noted that he “doesn’t take himself too seriously. Even when things don’t go his way, he is able to put things in perspective and bounce back.”

n Reason, logic, mano-a-mano 

While they have their favorite debate arena in which they excel, Pies’ debaters can if needed cover other forums. And they recognize the necessity of keeping emotions in check and recognize that whatever the debate forum in which they are competing, reason and logic carry the day.

In what is a digital age of communication, where information floats through the ether via social media, email, and text messages on smarts phones — which are rarely used for talking and listening — Brookings High School debate community members excel at communicating face-to-face, mano-a-mano with the human voice and ear.

All graduating seniors, with the exception of Hof, they are college-bound in the fall. Hof will go into “construction movement” with his father and an uncle. “I’ve already done it. I’ve been doing it since I was 8-years-old.”

It’s a profession that will have him traveling occasionally outside of Brookings. “It’s kind of all over,” he explained. “We’re going to Alaska this summer. We’re going to St. Louis next year. But for the majority of the rest of the year, it’s around Brookings, in South Dakota in general.”

A lifetime teacher, 34 years, Pies had been in retirement a couple years before the COVID-19 pandemic rolled in. Then the debate coach’s  replacement resigned and she stepped in for temporary duty.

“They couldn’t find anybody,” she said. “I came out of retirement. That was four years ago.” Now she’s ready to re-retire.

Coming back to Brookings High School when she did, she began working with some freshman debaters she has dubbed the “COVID Kids.” They’re now seniors and they have excelled under Pies’ tutelage, including during those early days, which were a bit unusual and interesting.

“They had to compete all virtually during that first year,” she explained. “That was interesting; and I think part of the reason that they’re so close as a group is because we competed every weekend here in the building together in classrooms.

“They each had their own rooms that they zoomed to the other team that they were debating against. And then we’d meet out here and have a potluck.”

Pies can relate to her charges: she’s been there, done that. “I participated in speech and debate all through my middle school and high school and college years,” she explained. “I did my student teaching here and helped with the debate team. And I was hired the next year to be the assistant debate coach and the head interp coach.” She’s handled those duties for 29 years. For her, job No.1 and the bottom line are always her students: She is recommending Yang, Nyawanda, Hof and Shore for the Academic All American Award presented by the National Speech & Debate Association.

Contact John Kubal at