Fairmont Prep is truly remarkable in that it offers small school benefits along with large school opportunities. One such opportunity is the ability for students to participate in one of the premier speech and debate programs in the United States. Last year, the Prep finished their season in the top five nationally, based on its number of qualifiers at the Tournament of Champions. Over the past three years, the school has fielded the #1-ranked debater in Public Forum Debate, the most popular debate style, across every school in California – both public and private. And the Huskies are already off to a great start in 2022, with six students making it all the way to the elimination round in the National Season Opener.
So how does a “small school” in Anaheim manage to compete at the highest echelons on a national level? Gabe Rusk, Director of Debate, attributes it to the fact that Fairmont recognizes the many benefits that speech and debate provides to its students and, therefore, is willing to make a heavy investment in it. “Leadership is enthusiastic about allocating the time and resources it takes to build an exceptional program,” said Mr. Rusk. “From having a full-time coach on staff to helping to cover some of the students’ expenses as they travel to competitions across the nation to nurturing a supportive culture among faculty, staff, and parents, Fairmont has demonstrated its commitment to providing unparalleled opportunities for our students in the arena of speech and debate.”
Fairmont’s program is also set apart by the fact that students are able to participate in competitions as early as 5th grade. The elementary and middle school programs are robust and have earned many accolades in their own right. Part of the Prep’s success is steeped in the fact that roughly two-thirds of the current team got their start on one of Fairmont’s 5th – 8th grade speech and debate teams.
But there’s another driving factor behind the Prep’s success in this domain – the quality of instruction and coaching Mr. Rusk provides to his team. An accomplished debater himself, Mr. Rusk took top honors as a high school student in the 2010 Tournament of Champions, earned a debate scholarship to attend the University of Denver, and went on to attend the University of Oxford as a graduate student, earning a place on the competitive travel team where he won best floor speech at the Oxford Debate Union.
“Gabe Rusk’s resume reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ in the world of competitive debate,” said Carolyn Lucia, Managing Director of Fairmont Campuses and Head of School at Fairmont Prep. “But more than that, he is a champion for his students, willing to do everything in his power to help equip and encourage them as they grow in the discipline of speech and debate.”
Fairmont Prep competes in Public Forum (PF) Debate, the newest and most widely used format of debate. PF emphasizes persuasive speaking and substantive argumentation and, according to the National Speech & Debate Association, “involves opposing teams of two, debating a topic concerning a current event. Proceeding a coin toss, the winners choose which side to debate (PRO or CON) or which speaker position they prefer (1st or 2nd), and the other team receives the remaining option. Students present cases, engage in rebuttal and refutation, and also participate in a ‘crossfire’ (similar to a cross-examination) with the opportunity to question the opposing team.”
Students who take part in the program are able to hone valuable skills that not only translate to success in academics but also to their broader lives – something Mr. Rusk says is at the core of the Prep’s philosophy. “Debate at FPA is not just oriented to wins and success. Trophies and accolades are welcome but more importantly, our team engages three core principles. First, engagement with the greater world. We debate schools and students from across the country and around the world. We debate topics that intersect law, STEM, politics, economics, international relations, and more. Second, our team cultivates critical thinking skills that will be useful for their whole life. I always tell my students that we are providing them with a set of tools about logic, reasoning, and analysis that they can use for the rest of their life. Third, and lastly, our team seeks to take abstraction and turn it into action – taking the knowledge they learn from the team and applying it to real-life policy solutions to make the world a better place.”
Sophomore Stavan Shah attests to the value of the program in his own life. “Debate at Fairmont Prep has augmented my presentation skills, made me an effective communicator, and strengthened my work ethic. A side benefit is I found a second family to create memories to last a lifetime with.”
The 2022-23 season marks the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that students have been able to compete in person. The Prep’s first on-site event was the California State University, Long Beach Tournament, the largest tournament in the state, where the team continued in its winning ways. Next up: the Yale University Invitational. Get ready, New Haven … that “small school” from Anaheim is heading your way. Go, Huskies!