Six Cove High School students are well on their way to mastering the art of making every second count.

And every word.

The students are members of Cove High School’s new speech and debate team, one short on experience but filled with potential, according to its coach, Earl Pettit.

The superintendent of the Cove School District, Pettit believes his team has a chance to qualify for the state speech and debate tournament February at the district tournament in Hood River.

“If we work hard, we can do very well,” he said.

Regardless of how well the team fares in upcoming months, Ross Hubbard, an assistant coach for the team, said the new program is already a success because of the impact it has had on students since team practices started in September.

“(Practice is) teaching kids how to make a point (worthy of) respect while enlightening the person they are talking to,” said Hubbard, a Cove High School social studies teacher. “It is making them more open-minded about their point of view.”

Hubbard also credits the program with helping students who tend to be quiet in class to blossom.

“They are learning how to carry and represent themselves,” he said. “It is a confidence builder.”

The members of Cove’s first speech and debate team are freshmen Hayden Taggart and Skyler Perkins, sophomores Haiden Wiggins and Jack Deem, plus sophomore William Pettit and senior Sophie Pettit, the son and daughter of Earl Pettit.

The new Cove team competes in a number of speech events and parliamentary debate. Each event has time constraints but none more stress-inducing than parliamentary debate. Parliamentary debate teams are told their topic just 20 minutes before competition begins. A key to succeeding in these circumstances is quickly assembling an outline that information and strategic points are plugged into, the superintendent said.

This is easier said than done since parliamentary debate teams are not allowed to access the internet.

“All they can have is a dictionary, a notebook and something to write with,” Pettit said.

He explained that dictionaries are needed to allow teams to define words in the debate’s question to the satisfaction of both teams. The goal is to have the teams agree on a single meaning of words that may have multiple definitions.

“Every debate invites word play. You have to define words,” he said.

Cove High School’s team put its debate organizational skills to the test at a practice session Wednesday. Pettit gave the team a topic — “Should the electoral college be abolished? — and then the students had 20 minutes to prepare an outline of their arguments after which a debate began.

Pettit does not know if students will ever have to debate the electoral college issue in formal competition, but he chose the subject for Wednesday’s practice because it is the type of question students will argue.

“The debate questions (in formal competitions) are about current issues. It is important that students keep up with what is going on in the news so they will be ready,” the Cove superintendent said.

Cove students also compete in speech competitions known as “radio.” Students must read a written text while sitting down and looking directly at their text. Gestures and facial expressions are unimportant for only vocal delivery counts as one reads.

“You are not allowed to make eye contact with judges,” Pettit said. “It supposed to be just like someone giving a radio broadcast.”

Taggart is among the students who compete in the radio category.

He said the timing element can be tricky. Taggart noted he had competed in a radio competition earlier this year but because he added humorous commercials to his presentation, it ran past the time limit.

Sophie Pettit also participates in radio competitions. Pettit, a star sprinter and jumper on the Cove High School track team, said she feels more pressure competing in races than in speech and debate because in track you have direct control of the final result.

“In track, your performance is all that counts. In debate and speech, it is subjective,” the Cove senior said.

Pettit competed in speech and debate as a freshman and a sophomore at Monument High School in Grant County before transferring to Cove in 2017 when her father was named superintendent there. She said some of her best speech and debate memories involved the fun she had with her friends on road trips.

“That was the most memorable part of the experience,” she said.

Cove High School is one of very few schools in Northeast Oregon with a speech and debate team. Other schools with teams include Pendleton and Pine Eagle high schools. The absence of teams means Cove must travel far to get to tournaments. It competed in its inaugural competition Oct. 27 at Tillamook High School and will participate in January at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

Students had to wear costumes at the Tillamook tournament for it had a Halloween theme.

“It was the right setting for our first-year team. (The Halloween theme) made it more relaxing and fun,” Earl Pettit said.

This will not be the case at Pacific University, where Cove will compete at the Hap Hingston Forensics Invitational.

“That will be much more business-like. It will be more stressful,” the Cove Superintendent said.

This is Pettit’s fourth year as a speech and debate coach. He led Monument High School’s speech and debate team from 2014 to 2017 before moving to Cove.
Pettit’s teams advanced to the state tournament twice and had three district champions in individual events.

He started a speech and debate team at Cove High School after seeing how well it was received in Monument. Pettit said he believes the bond of friendship developed among members of a speech and debate team is amazingly strong because everything done involves such a cerebral process.

“There is nothing like the camaraderie of a speech and debate team.”