By Amy Wenk

It is easy to argue that Pace Academy in Buckhead has one of the strongest debate teams in Georgia.

On Feb. 9, Pace once again took home a victory at the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) State Debate Championship, which was held at Whitewater High School in Fayetteville. For the 21st consecutive year, the school located on West Paces Ferry won the A/AA/AAA title. Since the inception of its debate team in 1972, Pace has earned a total of 33 state debate titles.

“It was an interesting experience,” Clay Cook, a Pace junior said. “It was a very close tournament. We were convinced we lost it.”

With just four team members — including Clay, juniors Jennifer Armstrong and Peyton Lee, as well as sophomore Alec Seco — the AA Pace team finished 10-2, beating out larger AAA schools like Grady and Centennial high schools.

Jennifer received the top affirmative speaker award and Peyton earned the top negative speaker award at the tournament. Additionally, both students have reached elimination debates at four national tournaments this year, earning three bids to the national championship in Lexington, Ky. this May.

“We try to keep it fun,” said Peyton, who began debating in seventh grade. “Debate is very little the way people think it is. It’s a mind game. It’s more about seeing logical fallacies, being organized and doing your research.”

Preparation is key to debate success, Peyton noted. For this reason, Pace Academy has integrated public speaking courses throughout the middle and high school curricula and has taken a leading role among the nation’s schools in hosting debate competitions. Pace participants must also attend weekly practice sessions.

“As a squad, we practice twice a week and maybe three to four times a week depending on the level of tournament coming up,” said Pace debate coach Shuntá Jordan, who has trained the team for five years.

This year, the national topic students debated was whether the U.S. federal government should increase its public health assistance to sub-Saharan Africa. Jordan said the skills students learn while examining these serious issues can be applied to a broad range of studies.