School Profile: Champaign Central H.S.

Downstate school finds success in the Chicago Debate League

This year, the Chicago Debate League welcomed a fourth guest school, Champaign Central High School. Champaign Central fully participated in all CDL activities throughout the year, traveling the 140 miles north to Chicago for each coach training session and every tournament. They stayed overnight in hotels and raised funds locally to enable their involvement.

Champaign Central is led by the very dynamic coach, Vernessa Gipson. “What an incredible experience! We met wonderful people, renewed my belief in the intellect of our youth when challenged and, of course, I loved returning ‘home’ to Chicago to see dedicated professionals and outstanding youth excelling. I was able to show the downstate folks the wealth of talent that exists in the Chicago area.”

We asked Coach Gipson to comment on the support Champaign Central received from the CDL. “We had no idea what we were getting into and were supported every step of the way by CDL staff, coaches and even debaters. Given our traveling arrangements, we appreciated the timeliness of each debate and the organization and structure. The monthly pep talks from all the CDL staffers were greatly appreciated.”

Champaign Central usually traveled four debaters to each tournament, with a total of six students on their squad. They had a rigorous practice schedule of meeting three days per week for two hours a day. Although as Coach Gipson notes, “As we drew closer to tournaments, the debaters’ anxiety increased and so did the practice time. Three days became four, and two hours became four hours. And the week before tournaments we practiced every day.”

Apparently success helped motivate her students, but also a strong peer ethic of commitment helped maintain their positive attitude toward making the long trip to participate in CDL tournaments. The Champaign Central debaters also made friends in the CDL which further inspired their participation.

Danaya Burnett, a sophomore debater at Champaign Central puts it this way, “Everyone here in Chicago welcomes us and makes us feel very comfortable. The debate experience here is the best! If the CDL wasn’t in my life, my grades and overall school performance wouldn’t be as great as it is now. Debate is the most important activity in my life, and without it, I wouldn’t stand out. I feel strongly for debate and it has created a better life for me. I now see myself going to college and becoming a lawyer.”

Keyonte Cobb, of Champaign Central High School, is a Chicago Debate League success story.

Keyonte Cobb was the most decorated Champaign Central debater this year. Coach Gipson has this to day about what he has gained by participating in the CDL. “Keyonte’s story is a testimony as to how debate can change lives. First, Keyonte did not choose to debate. He showed up at the after-school program to sign up for a Hip Hop Dance class and tutoring. Keyonte was returning to school after spending 25 days in the county jail for a battery charge. As I listened to his nonstop talking, I instructed him to come to the debate team recruitment meeting the next day. There was something about having the opportunity to talk and have others listen to him that intrigued him about debate. He loved the topic and it was personal for him. It was from his debate experience that he is talking about going to college.”

The CDL sees plenty of benefits in the participation of Champaign Central and other guest schools. According to Les Lynn, CDC Executive Director, “The story of Champaign Central is unique and extraordinary. But the broader story is that an increasing number of schools outside Chicago are interested in what the CDL is doing and attracted to the impact that involvement with it can have on their students. Guest schools in the CDL indicate a center of gravity for competitive academic debate programming within the city of Chicago.”