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Analy High School's Gordon Allen is not usually at a loss for words.

The prize-winning debater recently took seventh place in the National Forensic League annual tournament in Kansas City, beating out 221 award-winning debaters from across the country.

But when asked why he participates on the school debate team, Allen, who will be a senior at Analy in the fall, takes an atypical pause.

"I guess, first and foremost, I do debate because I'm good at it. It's not to be boastful, but it's just what makes sense to me -- people enjoy what they are good at," he said.

Allen, 17 and a stellar student, is good at it because it piques his intellectual curiosity.

"I do debate because it allows me to express myself and make discussions of the type that are generally not made in conversation," he said. "It allows me to really engage a claim and a person on a level that no other activity does."

A competitive debater since his freshman year at Analy, Allen has excelled in the discipline as few others have, according to his coach, Lynette Williamson.

He was the only student from the North Bay to earn a spot in the national competition.

"He is very adaptable," she said of his debating style. "He has his preferences, but he realizes that the world demands that you adapt to your audience."

Allen excels in the Lincoln-Douglas category of debate and typically spends hours studying sometimes arcane academic journals, formulating arguments and counter-arguments for esoteric questions of philosophy and reason.

His question at nationals?

"Resolved: Compulsory inclusion of non-felons' DNA in any government database is unjust."

Prior to the week-long tournament, which started June 14, Allen read legal documents, medical journals, law reviews and academic papers to prepare both sides of the argument and anticipate what several rounds of opponents might throw at him.

"I definitely learn from my opponents and the kinds of arguments they make," he said. "Good preparation kind of nullifies strategic and surprising arguments."

The audience at the national, year-end tournament is loaded with college scouts who are there to watch more than 3,200 students go toe to toe in 17 categories of academic debate.

"It's huge," National Forensic League spokeswoman Jenny Billman said of making it to the national stage. "It reflects years of practice and commitment, and it's huge in terms of what it can do for a student."

"If someone performs well at nationals, they can go places," Billman said. "Just getting to nationals is a huge opportunity to get to be seen, and to meet decision-makers."

Although this year was his first trip to nationals, Allen has been on big debate stages before.

After a strong showing at the California state tournament in his sophomore year, Allen called this year's state contest "a little bit of a fiasco" where he failed to adjust his style to the wants of local judges in Bakersfield and was sent home early.

"At first I was really angry, or I guess just really upset," he said. "It's not really valid to rant about judges. It was much more of a learning experience."

Williamson said Allen's disappointment with his performance at state fueled a stellar showing in Kansas City.

"There were coaches texting me from all over the state: 'Oh my gosh, he's in the top 16!' "

Allen, who is not yet sure where he wants to attend college, said he has visited UC Berkeley, Stanford and plans to see Harvard, Yale and Brown.

He remains mum about his goals for his senior year on the debate circuit, but expects to compete in both league debates in the North Bay and take part in the separate state competition, and, he hopes, nationals again.

Staff writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com.

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