What to do, what not to do: Phoenix debate students taking notes from GOP presidential debate

The stage is set for Wednesday's Republican debate in Milwaukee and the candidates are looking to make their mark with voters.

Eight of the candidates will be placed in order of recent polling with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy taking center stage. The front-runner for the GOP nomination, former President Donald Trump will not participate

Although, he says he's confident in his lead.

The latest polling out of Iowa shows Trump with a commanding lead at 42%.

'Difference between debating and arguing'

A group of Valley students will be watching closely – but for the performances.

Desert Vista High is home to one of the best debate teams in Arizona. They ranked as state champs 18 out of the past 21 years.

Watching this debate is kind of like extra credit to see what works and what doesn’t.

"I got in speech and debate because my brother and I just fell in love with it from the time I started," said Alex Brown, a junior.

"I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but after I joined, I said, ‘Why have I not been doing this since middle school?'" Cora Wintring, a senior, said.

High school and presidential debates are similar in some ways.

You're arguing your position and trying to win points with the judges. But, with other differences, like listening. 

Elizabeth Ovelil, a junior says, "Understanding where every argument inside of debate comes from really helps. You think more logically, and keep out emotions and personal feelings."

"There is a difference between debating and arguing. That difference lies in your emotional response to the other person," says Ashley Clark, a junior.

Also similar – there’s no substitution for preparation and understanding current events.

"So watching a presidential debate like the one tonight will give them ideas what to do and also ideas about what’s happening in the greater circle of this country," said Marco Dominguez, the head coach for the speech and debate team.

These students may pick up a few pointers, or maybe see how not to debate. But, they say by being part of the debate team that they’ve all already won.

"Arguing with someone and fighting with someone, but at the end of the day, you’re trying to understand the other side too," Wintring said.

"After the round, it’s over. You just go and talk to them and you're friends again," Brown said.

"I really changed as a person too. Like, every season, I change drastically as a person as well as in debate," Clark said.

"Everything I had learned from a tournament performance environment helps me not just in the tournaments, but also anything else I do," Clark said.

There are dozens of members on the Desert Vista debate team taking part in both team and individual competitions.

The state championship is coming up in March 2024.