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South Valley Riverton Journal

Riverton-based Debate League advancing to ‘Sweet 16’ Round in Global Debate Competition

Mar 30, 2023 04:38PM ● By Morgan Olsen

Riverton-based Wasatch Independent Debate League team, made up of Bronson Bishop, Owen Amakasu, Richard Henage and Alexander Henage. (Alexander Henage/Wasatch Independent Debate League)

Riverton’s very own Wasatch Independent Debate League is advancing to the Sweet 16 round of the International Public Policy Forum Global Debate Competition. The team, made up of Alexander Henage, Richard Henage, Owen Amakasu and Bronson Bishop, will win an all-expense paid trip to New York City to compete against other finalists if they advance to the next round. 

More than 200 teams submitted a debate essay in October 2022, and in November, the top 64 teams were chosen and began a single-elimination, written debate competition. 

“Each team was assigned a position (affirmative or negative) and then volleyed papers back and forth with another team via email for the next six weeks,” stated a press release. “A panel of judges reviewed the essays and selected the winning teams.”

In the round of 64 and the round of 32, the Wasatch Independent Debate League advanced over schools from Missouri and Texas, respectively, taking them to the Sweet 16 round. 

“The teams advancing demonstrate excellence at research, writing and advocacy,” William A. Brewer III said, partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors and a founder of the IPPF, in a press release. “The 16 teams remaining will compete in a final round of written debates – in hopes of moving on to oral debates during the IPPF Finals in New York City.”

The Wasatch Independent Debate League is led by two coaches, Daniel Henage and Samuel Martineau. The league is designed for homeschool students who would like to participate in speech and debate tournaments without being enrolled in a traditional high school. The debate league, of which Martineau is the director, has classes across Utah and neighboring states. Each month the students all come together to compete in debate tournaments. This year, nine different teams representing the Wasatch Independent Debate League entered the IPPF Global Competition, but Henage’s team, centered in Riverton, was the only one to advance past the qualifying round.

“The first three rounds of the competition are essay-based,” team member Richard Henage said. “We all work together to write those essays. If we advance past this round, we’ll fly to New York and do speech debates in-person for the final three rounds.”

Each summer, the IPPF releases the topic for the debate for the following school year so students can start working on their first round of essays, which is usually due sometime in October. This year’s topic is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, specifically, whether NATO is good or bad for international cooperation. The competing students have enjoyed learning more about a complex topic they might not otherwise be interested in.

“This is my first experience with debate stuff,” team member Owen Amakasu said. “The research has been my favorite part. I get to stay current on a bunch of news and, normally, I probably wouldn’t follow this stuff. It’s a unique thing to do and it’s a fun environment.”

Alexander Henage and Bronson Bishop both participated in the IPFF competition last year but were cut after the round of 32.

“Alexander and I were part of a team last year and we got to the round before this, which was exciting,” team member Bronson Bishop said. “But it’s really cool to advance to the Sweet 16 because it feels so close now that we’re only a round away from finals. It’s kind of exciting and intense, but it’s definitely a good feeling.”

Being part of the Wasatch Independent Debate League has given students the opportunities to learn skills they feel will serve them far beyond their years of competition with the debate league. 

“My favorite thing about competing in the IPPF is the skills I am able to develop,” team captain Alexander Henage said. “I’ve always been a writer and loved writing. Through participating in the IPPF, I’ve seen more improvement than I have in any other class or extracurricular activity just because of how intense this process is over writing, researching and completing a finished project. It’s really rewarding.”

Learning how to research and work together to create a polished essay together has been another benefit the students have appreciated as they work towards advancing during each round of competition.

“This has been a great experience as a search for truth,” Richard Henage said. “Learning how to research and get into the facts of things and switch sides and research on both sides to see what points everyone has, has been interesting. It’s nice to see which sides are easier to argue and which are harder. It’s interesting. I can use these skills in my future, as well.”

Aside from developing essential skills, the IPPF delivers a competitive edge with a grand prize of $10,000 for the winning team.

“The IPPF Finals give students the opportunity to supplement their written scholarships with oral advocacy – competing in debates in front of some of the world’s foremost experts in business, law and politics,” said the organization’s most recent press release. “Judges will include Brewer and New York University President Emeritus John Sexton, among others. The winning team will take home the Brewer Cup and the $10,000 grand prize.”

The team is currently in the middle of their Sweet 16 round and will find out on March 30 if they advance to the Elite 8. Should they advance to the Elite 8 round, their preparation will consist of lots of practice debates and feedback on how to improve their arguments.

“This is a huge competition,” Alexander Henage said. “We’re so grateful for the foundation. They need a lot of funding and a lot of volunteers, and I’m grateful they’re putting this opportunity together for all of us. They are improving the debate experience for debate students all over the world and that’s really cool.” 

Students interested in competing in the International Public Policy Forum can find more information regarding debate topics and deadlines at