Anyone who has listened to a teenager argue will appreciate the skills needed to be convincing: research, critical thinking and listening to opposing viewpoints.

Anyone who has listened to a teenager argue will appreciate the skills needed to be convincing: research, critical thinking and listening to opposing viewpoints.

At Ashland High School, students in the Speech and Debate program learn from their coach and classmates different styles of persuasion and rhetoric as they compete alone and in teams.

Speech events showcase individuals explaining an issue with passion, creativity and personal experience. The speech may be about the consequences of a shortage of honey bees on food sources or poems about being unique.

In a debate, two teams take a side of an issue and, through critical thinking and hard evidence, try to present the most convincing arguments while appealing to a specific audience.

Different debate styles may focus on policy changes, while others may be a more philosophical ideal of how the world should be, explains coach Wendy Werthaiser.

Topics range from national health care and space exploration to mandatory immunizations or the international humanitarian crisis.

In both styles, students learn to identify logical fallacies and discover their voice, both skills useful in and outside a classroom.

"While they learn how to formulate strong and convincing arguments in the sport of debate, they also learn how to take a public stand on issues that are important to them," says Werthaiser.

Varsity members work one-on-one with new students. "They learn to advocate for themselves, seek and offer help, and take full membership on a cohesive team," says the coach.

The team's work is paying off. In February, AHS students earned first place at both the Linfield College tournament and the University of Oregon tournament, competing against up to 30 schools from Oregon, Washington and California.

The team has won the state competition two of the past three years. Last year, AHS was named in the top 10 percent of programs across the country.

On Saturday, April 6, AHS will be competing against regional high schools in the State Qualification rounds, which will be held at 8 a.m. on campus. The public is invited.

"Debate is extremely interesting to watch and very educational, while the speech events are insightful and entertaining," says Werthaiser, who was honored in December by the National Forensics League. "Many people are surprised at the dedication and depth of knowledge that our students have to offer."

The 30 active members compete against teams with twice as many members.

To build the program, Werthaiser is teaching Ashland Middle School students the fundamentals of debate, in the hopes they may join the team in high school.

The AHS speech and debate program is a yearlong commitment. Students attend the class every other day, as well as weekly after-school practices.

The AHS program was started by John Tredway, who was the debate coach here for 30 years before retiring to Florida a decade ago. He and his wife, Gloria, have since organized academic debates among students in Cuba, Denmark and other nations. In March, they flew to Tunisia to facilitate a second debate there.

AHS varsity member Cass Anderson says she appreciates the team support she receives, as well as practicing life-enriching skills.

"It has greatly increased my confidence, not only with public speaking but also with my critical thinking skills," she says. "I am now able to fully explain myself and articulate my views in a concise and professional manner."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or