Four articulate Armidale Secondary College students will compete in the state debating finals next week in the competition's first face-off between two regional schools.
From 263 teams across the state, one will emerge victorious.
The Stage 5 team - speakers Ella Vu (Year 10), Casey Rainger, Rubi Ainsworth, and adviser Fynn Eastwood (all Year 9) - won their semi-final debate against Asquith Girls' High School in Sydney last week. (Topic: That we should raise the legal drinking age to 21 in Australia. ASC were the negative.)
The team will compete against Orange High School on Monday to determine the state champion.
"We're proving that country schools have the smarts and the ability to get there as well," coach Fiona Smee said.
"No one we know has made it this far," an ecstatic Casey said. "It's a good achievement at this stage - but it'd be even better if we could go on to win it!"
The competition began with a round robin in the local area; from there, the teams compete in an interzone knockout.
"Considering we're a regional school, going up in a competition plagued with Sydney schools, it feels surreal that we won against so many prestigious schools," Rubi said.
The debating team comprises students from both the former Duval and Armidale High Schools. It has, Ella thought, been a good way to link the two schools in the combined college's first year. Besides, Fynn said, Duval never reached the finals: "It's really good to get experience at this level!"
The four have formed a close group - but, Ella said, might not have become friends in the regular school environment.
Most have debated since primary school, Rubi as early as third grade. Her teacher suggested she put her loud voice to use in speaking competitions.
The debaters enjoy the challenge of arguing against another team, the adrenaline kick of speaking in public, and meeting like-minded people. Talking to strangers and expressing their opinions have developed their confidence and eloquence, they feel.
Ms Smee thinks debating has taught them how to construct an argument and empathise with opposing viewpoints - useful practice for essay-writing.
Armidale Secondary College is building a great culture of debating and public speaking, Ms Smee believes. The school has two teams in Years 7 and 8, two in 9 and 10, and one team in 11 and 12.
"We're only going to get more passionate and involved in years to come," Ms Smee said.
The debaters said their coach deserves a lot of the credit for pushing and mentoring them. "We've all debated in previous years, and I've never had someone so dedicated," Rubi said.
The team will debate the English department on Wednesday to prepare them for the final. Armidale's schools, both public and private, will debate at a gala day at the Old Teachers' College on Tuesday, November 19.