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Mount Vernon debaters Ben Cochran and Stephen Rowe point to their entry number after the cut to the top 100 teams in the nation was announced.

MOUNT VERNON — The duo of Mount Vernon High School juniors Stephen Rowe and Ben Cochran finished 22nd at the National Forensic League’s annual national debate tournament held in Birmingham, Ala., June 16-21.

This was Rowe and Cochran’s first trip to the national tournament where they competed in the event of Public Forum Debate. Two hundred and sixty-eight teams competed in six preliminary rounds before being narrowed down to the top 100 when double elimination rounds began. Rowe and Cochran then advanced five more rounds before exiting the competition with a split decision from a three judge panel.

Coach Jeff Gottke said, “I could not be more excited for Stephen and Ben. Having never been to the tournament before I didn’t know exactly how far they would go, but to finish in the top 25 exceeded my expectations. They not only showed they could compete with the best in the county but are now ranked among the best. They should be very proud.”

To travel to the tournament the team raised all its own funds. “We are extremely grateful to those who helped to give us this opportunity. The Ariel Foundation, Knox County Renaissance Foundation, the Blizzard and Ritter families and Joan Clipse all donated to make our trip possible” said Gottke.

Public Forum Debate is designed to be like a news commentary show where two sides discuss a topic as either the affirmative or negative. Teams prepare both sides of the topic and a coin flip immediately before the round determines which side teams will argue. Each round lasts about 40 minutes. The topic for the tournament was “Resolved: The benefits of American drone strikes against foreign targets outweigh the harms.”

“This was a very difficult topic to grasp,” Gottke said. “Foreign policy topics are incredibly complex, with many different factors to consider. Luckily we feel we are strongest in this area.”

The National Forensic League dates back to 1925 and is the leading coordinating body of debate around the county. The topics are voted on by the member coaches of the league and change monthly. Teams competing at the national tournament must first win a regional qualifier, where Rowe and Cochran finished second.

Looking forward to next season, Gottke said “I am extremely excited for next season. Not only are Rowe and Cochran returning but there nearly a dozen other students returning next year who have tremendous potential. Debate at MVHS has a bright future ahead of it.”



Joshua Morrison: 740-397-5333 or and on Twitter, @


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