Lanier MS wins big at national debate tournament

Lanier Middle School’s speech and debate team traveled to Kansas City with big dreams, and they came back to Houston with a big win.

Forty members of the 130-member team competed in the National Speech and Debate Association’s Middle School Tournament last week, debating everything from NATO’s relationship with the Ukraine to how the National Security Agency obtains information. The team earned the Overall School of Excellence Award. Out of about 100 schools that competed, only three earned this achievement.

The team’s coach for the past seven years, Franz Hill, said one of the team’s keys to success is having a strong alumni base that comes back to help the students prepare for tournaments. Hill said about 10 former team members, who are now in high school, college, or are recent college graduates, traveled with the students to the national tournament. Hill’s predecessor, Jim Henley, said one of his former students, who recently graduated from Yale University, has returned to Lanier almost every summer during his college career to help current team members. He also traveled to the national tournament to keep coaching the competitors.

“He realized the value that it had in his life,” Henley said.

Henley said something he told his students throughout the years stuck with them.

“If something good has happened to you, you should be a part of having it happening to others,” Henley said.

Winning big awards is nothing new to Lanier’s speech and debate program. Hill said the school has won about nine other national top honors, including five consecutive wins from 2003 to 2007 when Henley was at the helm.

The team is always looking for new members who want to try something new. Hill said being on the team requires a lot of reading, research and practice.