MOUNDRIDGE — Though the Moundridge High School debate team may be small in size, it stands out in power.

"I think it is unique and a confidence builder to know our skills are not limited by our enrollment or our small-town roots," said forensics and debate coach Tammy Unruh.

As 25 state debate champion banners hang in the gymnasium of the high school, Unruh said she often feels the pressure of how far she can take her debate team. Yet, each year’s team won’t let the pressure to add another banner stop them from having an outstanding year.

"There have been many other years we have been second or third place. We have numerous state forensics championships, and as a coach, I feel very good. But there is very real pressure to take these students as far as they can go — and we know from our past that can be pretty far," she said.

That past has been very present this year as two senior debate team members, Jessica Ullom-Minnich and Christian Walls, took home two fourth place medals from the 2018 Kansas State Debate tournament.

"We ended with fourth place medials and 2-Speaker State, losing in the quarterfinals. That was not the finish we had hoped for, but the students felt like it was a well-fought round and the decision was close — we won one of three judges ballots," Unruh added.

Overall, Unruh said she was pleased with her team's season as others brought home additional medals as well.

Going to state and placing fourth is quite the accomplishment for these students, but what they learn from participating in debate and forensics is just as important.

The teams are designed to give students the skills and opportunity to compete in activities that enhance their communication skills, intellectual aptitude, vigorous research and dedicated practice, Unruh explained.

"Any of those things can be, and many are, taught in other classrooms and in other disciplines — but debate and forensics brings them together in a competitive atmosphere that challenges students to do better, try harder and think more creatively," she explained. "It also gets them to think more creatively in order to engage successfully with others. It's also a great way to get to know other students, both in one's own high school and in other schools as well."

Unruh said she believes that being on a debate team can give students the communication skills needed for life outside of high school.

"Speaking and thinking skills, especially under pressure, can't be developed without practice and debate gives students a lot of practice. Debate teaches that there is more than one side of an issue and there is potential merit on other sides as well — and that is an understanding that is sorely needed in our society right now," she explained.

Unruh said she is looking forward to next year's debate team, as some changes are coming to the program.

"Next year will be a major rebuilding year for me. Losing these two seniors will be hard, but that's the way it works. I am looking forward to making some changes in our way of doing debate, especially in our use of technology — we will all be learning together," she added. "Moundridge debate has a reputation as a small-school power. I am looking forward to see how that pans out in the next few years as our district gets smaller. At times it is frightening because there are very few debate programs among the smallest schools in the state — but it is a challenge worth taking on just because the benefits of the activity are so numerous."

Contact Brooke Haas by email at or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.