Sam Clark, Miles Owens of George Washington High are national debate champs

Two students from Denver's George Washington High School are the best policy debaters in the National Forensic League, a super-competitive league whose champs usually hail from wealthy private prep schools. Sam Clark and Miles Owens, who graduated from GW this spring, are the first debaters from Colorado to win a national title since 1953.

The National Forensic League, or NFL for short, is different from the Urban Debate League, the Denver outpost of which was the subject of our recent feature, "Say What?"

Whereas the Urban Debate League has teams in more than a dozen big cities, schools from all over the country participate in the NFL, many of them spending gobs of money to travel hundreds of miles to compete in prestigious tournaments every weekend. GW doesn't have that kind of budget -- which makes Sam and Miles' win even more amazing.

"Schools that win are traditionally wealthier, circuit-style schools," says GW coach Maryrose Kohan, referring to the competition "circuit" traveled by rich schools. "It puts the debate world on its head that a no-name team was able to do this."

But GW isn't no-name anymore. "People have heard of George Washington now," she says.

The debate topic this year -- in every league, from NFL to UDL -- was intense: whether the U.S. should substantially reduce its military presence in one of the following six countries -- South Korea, Japan, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq or Turkey.

Sam and Miles chose Afghanistan. But their strategy was specific: They argued that the U.S. should withdraw special forces from the country because special forces conducted dangerous night raids that often claimed the lives of Afghan civilians and turned them against the U.S. and for the Taliban.

It was a unique case, Kohan says. "Some of the schools complained that it was too specific, that they'd never heard of it before, but that didn't get (those schools) very far," she says. "It was exciting to see that working for them."

So what does a high school policy debate look like? The trailer for a documentary called Resolved, about two debate teams from very different backgrounds, provides a compelling glimpse. Also check out this video taken at the DUDL City Championship, featuring debaters Theron and Teague Harrison of Denver's Manual High School.

More from our Education archives: "Theron and Teague Harrison win second place, a trip to NY at city debate championship (VIDEO)."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar