Debaters accomplish best State finish in school history


Wildcat Photo

DHS Debate teacher Will Mercer, senior Hunter Finerty and junior and Ryan Handley pose with their third-place trophy from the 05A Two-Speaker State Debate Tournament.

Ella Fixsen, Editor in Chief

After three days of competition, debaters senior Hunter Finerty and junior Ryan Handley brought home a third-place title from the 5A, Two-Speaker State Debate Tournament on Jan. 16. This is the first KSHAA State Debate trophy that will reside at De Soto High School and signifies the best State finish in DHS history. 

This year, the tournament was held virtually, which was something new for the debaters. Although different from previous State competitions, Finerty continued to be successful debating in this format. 

“This year it [State] would have been at Olathe Northwest. It was still technically hosted by Olathe Northwest, so we had virtual preliminary rounds, which Ryan and I went 5-1 in that portion of the competition,” Finerty said. “Out of 28 teams, the top eight moved on to the next round, so Ryan and I went on to compete in quarterfinals, which we also won.” 

Although the pair did end up facing defeat in the semifinals, Finerty is extremely proud of how she and her partner finished at the tournament. 

“I was super super excited about how we placed. We knew we were going to lose the round that we lost. [The opposing team] absolutely blew us out of the water, but we were both just super excited to move on and get to continue competing because last year we had just barely missed moving on to the elimination round,” Finerty said. 

After being notified of their results, Finerty and Handley were very interested to see the feedback provided by the State judges. 

“When I was reading our ballots from judges, I was interested in how they viewed the arguments that we made and what tips they had, just like I would at any other tournament,” Finerty said. “Being a senior, and this being my last debate tournament ever, it wasn’t necessarily useful for me to improve, but getting positive comments felt like all the work that I’ve done the past four years has paid off.” 

Finerty and Handley debated as a pair during the 2019-20 school year and qualified for State together, which Finerty believes is a large part of their team accomplishment this year. 

“Ryan and I are absolutely on the same wavelength, so neither of us had to do each others’ work, and I think being able to just trust each other was really refreshing,” Finerty said. 

Debate coach Will Mercer also saw the strong potential of the two debaters and never doubted that the pair would be successful throughout the season. 

“Both [Finerty and Handley] definitely have a lot of passion for being in debate and a lot of drive to compete. I knew they were going to qualify for State without any question,” Mercer said. “Towards the end of the season, they really put things together and really developed strong cases and started figuring out how to debate really effectively. The tournament came and it was still kind of a surprise to see how great we did but definitely a pleasant one for sure.”

Mercer hopes that this success will continue for future debaters in upcoming years, as well as other competitions in 2021. 

“I think this is the first State tournament that De Soto has been able to bring back from debate, so I know that Ryan is going to be returning as a senior and hopefully we can keep that momentum moving forward into our next season and into forensics in the spring,” Mercer said.