At state-champion SM Northwest debate program, coach takes biggest pride in student growth

SM Northwest debate coach Ken King was inducted into the Kansas Debate Coaches Hall of Fame this year.

By the time SM Northwest’s Julian Kuffour and Emmanuel Osei found out that they’d won the Kansas 6A two-speaker debate championship, their cheering section had thinned out substantially.

Emmanuel Osei (left) and Julian Kuffour won SM Northwest’s second straight 2-speaker state title.

It was 12:45 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 14, and the weather forecast had predicted a band of heavy snow moving through the area.

As a caution, head coach Ken King had sent nine of the ten other SM Northwest debaters who’d traveled to the state meet in Emporia home to avoid the weather.

But even with hardly anyone still around, the duo — cousins who have an easy rapport with one another — had no trouble celebrating.

“It’s all adrenaline at that point,” said King.

Taking home state titles never gets old, of course. But tournament wins have been nothing new to the Cougars the past few years. Last year, Kuffour and then-partner Lily Ottinger won the 2-speaker state title. Kuffour picked up right where he left off this year when his cousin joined him, and the duo won several tournaments throughout the year. But they weren’t the only Northwest debaters to bring home hardware.

“The coolest thing about the squad this year is how widespread the quality is,” King said. “I really love how much depth of competition we had.”

That’s a marked turnaround from five years ago, when King tranferred from SM West to his alma mater SM Northwest to take over the program. At the time, he had three advanced-level debaters and 24 novice-level debaters. Compare that to this year, where more than a dozen juniors and seniors qualified for state.

“The growth of the students is really the thing that I take the most pride in,” King said. “State championships are great. But I love seeing how much depth we have across the whole program.”

The success of the Northwest debaters this year led to King earning Kansas Debate Coach of the Year award. He was also inducted into the Kansas Debate Coaches Hall of Fame earlier this year in recognition of his career’s accomplishments.

Not bad for a guy who only got into debate as a way to avoid mowing the lawn.

“When I was in seventh grade, my brother was in debate in high school, and every Saturday he would go to a debate tournament and I would have to do all the yard work,” King recalled. “So when I got to high school, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to sign up for this so that I’ve got an activity I have to go to on Saturday, and someone else will have to handle the yard.'”