LSHS student emerges at national debate tournament

acannon@lsjournal.comJuly 9, 2014 

For most high school juniors, the aspects of the Venezuelan economy are about as foreign to them as life before Instagram. Some might even struggle to identify Venezuela on a map.

Luckily, Jonathan Christy, who completed his junior year at Lee’s Summit High School in May, can spend seven minutes giving you the lowdown on Venezuela’s economic strategies (and probably show where it is on the globe).

Back in mid-June, Christy competed in the International Extemporaneous Speaking event at the National Speech and Debate Association’s national tournament in Overland Park, Kan.

Along with the Venezuelan economy, Christy also gave speeches on the Canadian banking sector, the Ukraine crisis and other international-focused topics to advance out of the preliminaries to the next round, featuring the Top 60 “extempers” in the country.

For Christy, the need for high-level consistency outweighed his nerves on the big stage.

“I knew that there was a lot less room for error,” he said. “It really made me come to realize that I had to bring it every single round.”

Even though he failed to advance to the Top 30 (he unofficially finished around 47th), he still earned the praise of his coach, Nate Smith.

With around 2,000 high school students nationwide competing in International Extemporaneous Speaking, “Extemp” for short, Smith called Christy’s showing “an amazing accomplishment.”

In a typical round of Extemp, competitors each have a question to answer. In International Extemp, the questions deal with issues outside of the United States. They are given 30 minutes to prepare a seven-minute speech that explains and answers the question.

To help compile their argument, extempers use research they gathered prior to the event. These articles and reports help the speakers generate original analysis to use in their speeches.

Christy, who placed fourth at this year’s Missouri State Tournament, structures his speeches in a simple, effective format: introduction of the topic, three main points and a conclusion.

After deciding on his three points, Christy turns to the introduction, where he has several reliable options. For instance, during the national tournament, he used the World Cup and the NHL and NBA Finals as precedent to compare world events to the typical sports team.

“There are three main aspects to a good sports team. You need to have a good management system,” Christy said. “You need to have a good defense and a good offense, and I related them to the sports events going on and then I cross-applied those to things going on around the world and how to handle those scenarios.”

Nowadays, Christy’s speeches almost always last the entire seven minutes, a far cry from his early days in Extemp.

“I was hitting three to five minute speeches just because you have to get the order down, you have to get the timing down,” he said. “The first few times I was doing it I didn’t really know exactly what I needed to do.”

Another skill that he can attribute to his success is his researching. While in school, Christy would spend 30 minutes to an hour researching international happenings on Google News, three to four times a week. With no school or other activities to distract him, Christy spent the week before the national tournament researching three to four hours every night.

“The week before the national competition, I had probably between about 250 to 300 articles downloaded and read,” he said.

That constant research, an ever-present sense of awareness is the key to success in International Extemp.

“Just having a general knowledge of what actually is going on around the world is really what makes somebody good at it,” Christy said.

Along with acknowledging Christy’s international hyper-awareness, Smith also complimented his pupil’s delivery.

“One thing Jonny has is a fluent speaking style. For Extemp, that’s really important,” he said.

Christy attended LSHS his freshman year after spending the years prior at Summit Christian Academy. He was shy and had yet to compete in his first debate tournament.

“He didn’t really say anything. He was pretty quiet,” said Smith.

However, that didn’t stop him from going out and winning his first novice event. After that, he was hooked.

Christy, who also competes in oratory and policy debate events, credits debate for improving his communication skills and widening his social circle at his new school.

“One thing debate helped me with, which was on a personal level, was that most of my best friends are on debate now and that’s allowed me to get to know them and they’ve introduced me to other people,” he said.

“What I’ve been pleased with is the type of people he’s surrounded himself with,” added his father, Peter Christy.

Christy is also a member of the LSHS lacrosse team, participates in Youth in Government and is an attorney at the Lee’s Summit Youth Court, but he still has time to focus on debate during the school year.

“It’s such devotion,” said his mom, Laurette Christy. “It’s a lot of time and commitment. More so than a lot of sports.”

Laurette Christy sometimes gets nervous watching her son compete, but she has instructions to abide by.

“I try to make no facial expression whatsoever because he tells me not to,” she said.

For Peter Christy, his son’s prowess has made stress a matter-of-fact afterthought.

“I don’t get nervous because he always does so well.”


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