Center High's Mark Perkins places 3rd at UIL State Congressional Debate, voted 'Outstanding Presiding Officer'

Mock legislative assembly competition requires students to draft legislation based on real-world issues

Center High School junior Mark Perkins placed third and was voted the Outstanding Presiding Officer at the UIL State Congressional Debate tournament in the 4A conference at the state capitol on Jan 9.

In Congressional debate, students model the process of democracy by participating in a mock legislative assembly. The competition requires students to draft legislation based on real-world issues, research the docket of bills, and apply political debate practices, including lobbying to resolve issues.

The role I usually play within congress is known as the Presiding Officer,” Perkins said. “This person is voted in by the room and operates as the unbiased conduit for the procedure. In other words, this person runs and keeps everything on track.”

Perkins was one of eleven students who submitted a candidacy request for Presiding Officer prior to the tournament. He was voted Outstanding Presiding Officer by his peers following his performance in the final chamber.

The Outstanding Presiding Officer acts as a secondary award to the tournament,” Perkins said.  “It is whoever was voted by the final room as the best P.O. candidate.”

In addition, Mark earned third place among the debaters.

It’s important to recognize that his Bronze Medal is awarded by the adult judges as being one of the best all around debaters in the state,” said Douglas Moore, Center High School debate team coach.  “The Outstanding Presiding Officer is voted on by the other debaters, the students, as a separate recognition.”

Unlike lower-level meets, the state tournament is held at the Texas Capitol Building in Austin, Texas.

It’s definitely a different atmosphere,” Perkins said. “The tournament took place while the actual state representatives were in session, so the Capitol was very busy. There were plenty of important people running around and I greeted everyone I could. Mathematically I had to have shaken hands with at least two state representatives.”

Perkins has advanced to state in one of the three UIL debate events every year since he joined the team when he began high school.

My freshman year I placed within the top 8 in a debate called cross examination,” Perkins said. “My sophomore year I attended the state tournament again for cross examination.”

The Center High School debate team is coached by Douglas Moore, who has 16 years of experience in coaching debate and who became the CHS UIL director in 2010.

"There’s no question that I wouldn’t have done this well without Mr. Moore,” Perkins said. “The knowledge, wisdom, and support he has shared, coupled with his tireless work to ensure I am prepared and equipped for a round, have carried me across finish lines for my entire career. I know it’s cliche to say I have the best coach, but I’ve seen the others— he is unrivaled in his ability to foster his debaters into thinking for themselves, and this is essential in every facet of debate and every facet outside debate.”

The campus was abuzz with anticipation as faculty and friends of Perkins awaited updates regarding his performance.

Among those was CHS Librarian Deborah Welch, who said it has been a pleasure to watch him progress over a period of years.

I kept checking my email to see if Mr. Moore had another update as Mark progressed through the competition,” Welch said. “As a staff member, it is just so gratifying to see a student who you’ve watched grow into their potential get out there and shine for everyone else to see.”

Center High Principal Matthew Gregory said Perkins has gained statewide recognition for himself and Center.

Mark is a very talented young man, and should serve as a prime example of when preparation meets opportunity,” Gregory said. “Mr. Moore and the UIL staff do an awesome job developing talent, and he is another top-5 state placer to prove it!  Congratulations, Mark Perkins, on placing third in congressional debate and earning the respect of the top debate students in the State!”

Algebra teacher and UIL math coach Alice Lynch said the honor is an indication of Perkins' work ethic and ability to plan.

Mark is a young man with an old soul,” Algebra teacher and UIL Math Coach Alice Lynch said. “He understands that good things require work, does not get stuck on roadblocks, and charts his path ahead with wisdom, a smile and a wicked sense of humor. He is totally dependable. After getting home a 2 a.m. [following competition], he was at school as usual.”

Perkins recognizes the support he has on campus and carries the momentum to every competition.

There’s no question when I go to tournaments, regardless of size, that I have the full, unbridled support of the faculty, staff, and students here at CHS,” Perkins said. “When so many people have my back, it puts me at ease, which usually positively affects my performance.

During the tournament I had to have my phone off. So after the everything was finally over, I remember turning my phone back on and watching it explode with messages from my friends wishing me good luck, asking for updates, and congratulating me from the past days.”

Perkins will graduate from Center High School in 2020. He currently plans on attending Stephen F. Austin State University. Despite his success in debate, his current plans do not include working in the capitol.

I have been told on a regular basis that I should be a politician, which isn’t always a compliment,” Perkins said. “As far as my career goes, I’d like to pursue a degree in English and become a debate coach. I’ll see if I can coach a future politician, but I am not sure I’ll purse that myself.”

With senior year rapidly approaching, Perkins must consider his dwindling opportunity to help grow the team and participate in his many other extracurricular activities.

I want to expand the debate program and try to recruit more people,” Perkins said. “I’m just about done with being the topic of discussion regarding debate; I’ve had my time. My plans will be paving the way for the next group of debaters.”

Perkins is involved in six different organizations on campus.

Mark is a tremendous talent and much of his success comes from that,” Moore said. “The biggest problem is that Mark is almost stretched too thin.  Along with Congress, he does CX debate, he is involved in theater, both acting and directing, during football season he is doing radio work, and he is very involved in journalism.  In a lot of programs, athletic as well as academic, there are coaches that make students choose one or maybe two events. I’ve always had a problem with that approach. This is the time for kids to have the freedom to explore and find themselves and what they want to do.”

Students interested in joining the debate team for the 2019-2020 season may sign up with Douglas Moore on campus.

It honestly doesn’t matter how far you get or what color your last metal will be,” Perkins said. “This program offers lessons that are far greater, and far more useful, than any ribbon. Try it out and stay with it. I can personally guarantee there’s a spot for everyone, and if you stay long enough, you WILL, not might, will, be better off.”

With hard work, other students can replicate Perkins’ success.

I have had students from past years that have had the same kind of potential but not the desire to be good,” Moore said.  “The competitive desire isn't linked to talent. There are a lot of kids that can be as successful as Mark but simply don't want to put in the time.

Mark is a great influence with younger debaters,” Moore said. “When we can get everyone together he teaches, mentors, and advises the younger students.  Much of the strength of any program comes from the leadership of upperclassmen.”