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Debate

Sophomores Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick successfully convinced the district’s board of education to let them head Shoreham-Wading River’s first debate club. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

A love of law and political science, combined with the impact of recent presidential debates, sparked the idea for two Shoreham-Wading River sophomores to push for a debate team.

Thanks to the efforts of Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick, the board of education saw no argument against the idea, and unanimously approved the newfound club, which will begin the 2017-18 school year.

In their PowerPoint presentation during a board meeting a month prior to approval, Beran and Kirkpatrick, who will serve as co-captains of the club, said the first year will serve as their “pilot year” in which they’ll assemble the team, hold weekly meetings with an advisor, compete in practice debates and sharpen their skills to prepare for competition with other schools, which they hope to do by their senior year.

In convincing the board, the two students are already well on their way to being successful debaters, said 10th and 11th grade English teacher Brenna Gilroy, who will serve as the club adviser.

“I just gave them some guidance — they approached me about starting the club and legitimately did most of the work,” Gilroy said. “I think [the board agrees] it’s important for students to be able to communicate well and effectively, but in a respectful, researched and knowledgeable way.”

“I think [the board agrees] it’s important for students to be able to communicate well and effectively, but in a respectful, researched and knowledgeable way.”

— Brenna Gilroy

Beran, a lacrosse player and vice president of his class, said he “prides himself in being an eloquent speaker.” He has wanted to form a debate club since his freshman year, in the hopes the skills acquired could help him, and others with similar interests, in future career endeavors. Beran plans to be a political science major in college, to work on becoming a corporate lawyer.

When Kirkpatrick, an honor roll student with similar career aspirations, also realized the school had no clubs catered to students with interests in political science or law, her next step was to make one. After speaking to Gilroy about moving forward with the idea, her teacher recommended she speak with Beran.

Upon meeting Kirkpatrick, Beran said “we knew this was the time to act.”

The two students, who were deeply invested in the atmosphere of politics last year, pointed to the coverage of the 2016 presidential debates as a catalyst in creating the club, wanting to use it as their template.

“Mrs. Gilroy, Declan and I met after school weekly, collaborating on our ideas for the club and putting together a presentation for the board,” Kirkpatrick said. “Through this process of creating the club, many students have approached me asking me about it and when they can join.”

Similar to the foundations of a debate, the sophomores told board members that students in high school are usually timed and limited by topic when writing argumentative essays, adding that the club could help students taking Regents and AP exams.

Skills acquired will help students not only in high school, but in college and the workplace as well, when doing things like formulating an argument, presenting it in a clear and cohesive manner, building self-confidence with public speaking and deepening research and analysis skills.

“We’ve found that as the students benefit from the debate team, the school will prosper,” Beran said, adding that he thinks the team will be made up of about 20 students overall.

High school principal Dan Holtzman said the required teamwork and collaboration within the club will be a tremendous asset to the students. As for the work of Beran and Kirkpatrick, he couldn’t be prouder.

“I’m a staunch supporter of students advocating for themselves,” Holtzman said. “The fact that Emma and Declan invested a great deal of time and effort into the presentation, it speaks volumes about their passion and commitment.”

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Monday, we will finally get to see, on the same stage, the presidential candidates who hate each other, find each other unqualified, and who long ago seem to have taken the gloves off in their smackdown.

Here are just a few of the questions I’d ask the man and woman who would like to be our president:

• People don’t like either of you, including politicians in Washington. Secretary Clinton, how will you bring together Democrats and Republicans, when your war with so many Republicans dates back to your years as first lady? And, Mr. Trump, notable Democrats and Republicans seem to find your style and policies confounding. How much can you really accomplish without the broad-based support of Republicans?

• Mr. Trump, you suggested that Congress shouldn’t consider President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and they haven’t. What would you do if you were President Obama and the Senate openly ignored your choice for Supreme Court?

• Mrs. Clinton, there’s a frequent line from courtroom dramas like Law & Order that goes something like this: “You said X when the detectives spoke to you and now you’re saying Y. Which is it? Were you lying then or are you lying now?” People don’t trust you. You don’t seem completely forthcoming, even about your pneumonia, until we see pictures of you stumbling into your SUV. How do we know when you’re sharing the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

• Mr. Trump, are you going to release your tax returns? The longer you go without sharing them, the more people wonder if you’re hiding something. You believe your opponent selectively discloses details about herself all the time, but you’re not sharing something most, if not all, candidates have shared. What gives?

• Mr. Trump, you have suggested on a few occasions that advocates of the second amendment might have something to say about Hillary Clinton’s position on gun control. You claim that people misinterpret what you say because you didn’t mean what you said when you wrote it. Your rhetoric, were you to be president, would mean something far different from what it does when you’re tweeting. If you were president, would you tamp down the bluster that people might misinterpret? Do you feel you can and should be able to shoot from the hip, as it were, whenever it suits your interests?

• Neither of you seems ready to say the kinds of things we would hope to teach our children, such as “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong.” Can each of you name a situation or circumstance in public life when you made a mistake and you recognize that you could and should have done better?

• Okay, turning away from each other, what policy do each of you guarantee wouldn’t change one iota and for which you would be inflexible or unwilling to compromise if either of you became president? Candidates often make promises they can’t keep when they’re elected. Is there anything you will pursue in its current form from your platforms?

• You both must recognize that your own rhetoric has alienated voters and raised concerns among various groups about your ability to lead and act on their behalf. Mrs. Clinton, how would you reconcile with Trump’s “deplorables,” as you put it, and Mr. Trump, how would you represent Muslim-Americans, Americans of Mexican heritage or any of the other people you’ve alienated if you became president?

• This campaign seems steeped in negativity. What is the most positive message each of you can share? How would that positive message make people feel better about the election and, down the road, the prospects for themselves and for this country? Be as specific as possible.

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People protest a proposed deer hunting law in front of the Belle Terre Village Hall. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Belle Terre officials got an earful at Village Hall on Tuesday night, as residents and visitors debated a proposal to allow deer hunting in the village over the sounds of jeers and the din of snide remarks.

At a public hearing over the proposed law, which the board of trustees developed in response to complaints about experiences with an increased deer population, more people spoke against hunting than in favor, shifting at least one trustee’s opinion.

Comments touched upon issues of public safety and health as well as quality of life. Yuri Farber was part of the minority speaking in support of hunting, saying the deer are destroying his property and he wants the village to offer him protection or allow him to do something “to get rid of this nuisance.”

“This is just not fair,” he said, noting that he would have recourse if it were a human destroying his plants.

But many speakers favored leaving nature alone.

Chris Nelson said, “It was their foliage before it was ours,” and he likes the environment in his village. Dr. Mike Fracchia, to applause from the audience, said falling trees — such as the ones sent flying during a powerful and unexpected storm in early August — were a larger threat to villagers than deer and the animals were “a nuisance that I’m willing to tolerate.”

Other arguments in opposition to deer hunting in Belle Terre included perceived flaws in the proposed law that would define hunting too broadly or make a new set of regulations impossible to enforce.

One woman, who identified herself as a pediatrician, warned the village board that with every law there are people who abuse it.

According to the proposal, residents and their guests would be allowed to use weapons such as crossbows, BB guns or similar devices other than firearms to hunt on their own properties at least 150 feet away from any home, as long as they have state hunting licenses and a permit from the village.

But many worried a child would get caught in the crosshairs.

Dr. Ken Rosenthal held up a broadhead arrow he found at his front door one day, to gasps and murmurs from the audience. The concern about the welfare of playing kids was repeated throughout the night.

Residents also debated whether hunting deer would produce the result desired.

While some said they were worried about contracting illnesses such as Lyme disease from the ticks deer carry, others said many smaller creatures, such as raccoons, carry those ticks as well. And the pediatrician, a Seaside Drive resident, noted that there are diseases everywhere and “unless we’re going to live in a bubble” we take risks in everything we do.

There were calls for compromises and for the board to do more research into sterilization methods, related costs and the actual size of the deer herd in Belle Terre, as some speakers acknowledged deer as a problem, but the sentiment in the room leaned heavily against allowing hunting.

Jaime Ivory produced a petition of 209 signatures against the proposed village law, representing more than 100 households. Her husband Brendan told the board to “go back to the drawing board.”

“This code needs to be thrown out,” he said about the proposal. “You know it.”

The debate had Trustee Bob Sandak changing his public stance on deer hunting in the village.

In a previous interview, Sandak said he had been leaning toward voting in favor of the hunting law because he wanted to do what the majority of the community wanted. But at Tuesday night’s meeting, Sandak got up to the podium and explained that the proposed regulations would only allow about four or five properties in Belle Terre to legally hunt, and the deer would leave those properties if hunting began.

Gasps and applause erupted in the audience when he said, “So as far as I’m concerned, a hunt at this point is ridiculous to consider.”