THS debate program shows early successes

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo High School’s speech and debate program might be only two years old, but it has already made a splash on the national stage.
THS seniors John Michael Angle and Nathan Oakes recently teamed up to finish in the top eight during the Catholic Forensic League Grand National Championships in Washington, D.C. The school had nine students qualify for the national tournament and also featured a pair of state champions.
Angle and junior Abby Grace placed first in Mississippi for public forum debate during April, while the team was fifth out of 20 schools at the state competition.
THS speech and debate coach Julie Henderson hopes the early success will lend momentum to the new program.
“We feel like we are building our reputation in a good way around the state, so people know we mean business,” said Henderson, who has led the team since it was inaugurated during the fall of 2009. “That is a fun thing to see.”
THS sent two team members to nationals last year but topped that number this year. In addition to Oakes and Angle, Grace, Abby Hunt, Katie Berry, Chase Baccus, Phill Milner, Abby Condit and Rachel Macklin also participated in the national tournament in various events. They qualified for nationals during a competition in Jackson in January.
Public forum debate is one of many events. In it, a team of two individuals debates a current events topic with another team. Competitors are given the topic in advance and must prepare an argument in favor of and against it. They don’t learn which side they will argue until shortly before the competition begins.
Angle and Oakes needed to advance through seven rounds to reach the quarterfinals, where they lost to the eventual national champions. More than 225 teams competed at the tournament, which was held over the Memorial Day weekend.
Angle said it has been rewarding watching the program grow.
“That has been a highlight of my high school career, being a part of creating something I know will continue to gain traction and grow and benefit students in the future,” he said.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or

Click video to hear audio