Hunter Wood’s LHHS debate team takes off

The new kids on the high school debate scene are smashing the competition

Teacher Hunter Wood has turned the LHHS debate team into fierce competitors. / PHOTO BY Ben Hager

Lake Highlands High School debate over the past couple of years has gone from so-so to shining. It’s an amazing story, LHHS’s executive assistant Karen Clardy says.

Clardy became nervous when a parent marched into the school and asked for the principal.

“I thought, ‘Oh, no’,” she says. “But it turned out he wasn’t upset about anything. He wanted to thank [Principal Peggy Dillon] for hiring Hunter Wood,” which didn’t surprise Clardy too much.

“He has made such a huge difference.”

Wood, who two years ago joined the school and formed the competitive debate team with students from his speech class, says it was rough going at first.

“We got shellacked at the first couple of tournaments,” he says.

In the fall, though, things started to gel, and with every small success, the team’s confidence grew.

“And the more confident they got, the more success they had. It’s all about making them believe in themselves and cultivating self-esteem,” Wood says.

The confidence has to be running over today.

Earlier this spring the team had a mind-blowing showing at the National Qualifying Tournament. With 60 teams competing, LHHS took three of the four nationals-qualifying spots.

“I know the kids seemed ecstatic. For me? Truthfully, it might have been one of the happiest moments of my life,” Wood says.

The students revere their coach and teacher.

“I attribute my success to him. He is a talented debater — he won awards in high school — and he has taught us so much,” says Sasha Butt, a junior who qualified for the national tournament, which takes place this summer.

She believes debate makes her a well-rounded person. “It gives you speaking and research skills and confidence in front of people,” she says. She hopes to take those skills into her future career as an attorney, she says.

Parent John White, whose son, Jon, transferred to LHHS this year from Highland Park and will debate in nationals, says the team’s recent successes have been astounding. “I am just completely impressed with this coach, and these results were incredible.”

As a result of the team’s newfound glory, Wood has seen a rise in interest in his class.

“I’ve had 25 kids or so call — it’s grown three-fold for next year.”

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