The Benefit of Argument: 2 Cousins Named to Elite USA Debate Teams through CASE Debates

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September 11, 2020 by HCDE Communications

As cousins, CASE Debates team members Rodrigo Trujillo and Diego Castillo admit to being competitive, fueling one another on their Alief ISD team. After being selected this month to join the elite USA Debate and Development teams to compete in national and international arenas, the heat is officially on.

“It’s a big workload and we put a lot of hours into practice,” said Trujillo, a senior at Elsik high school. “Debate motivates me to learn more and gives me passion to improve constantly. It forces me to keep up with current events and builds this intrinsic motivation.”

The pair compete through World Schools Debate, one of two competitive debate formats. They have earned the unique honor of being the first two CASE Debates members selected for the National Speech and Debate Association teams. Only 15 students across the nation make the USA Development Team, which grooms student debaters for the USA Debate Team, an elite team of 12.

Rodrigo Trujillo

CASE Debates is a four-year-old, afterschool debates program created by the Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment for Kids (CASE for Kids). It is funded with a budgeted $238,000 in the 2020-2021 school year by Harris County Department of Education (HCDE). CASE for Kids, a division of HCDE, collaborates with local school districts and charter schools through a model provided by the Houston Urban Debate League (HUDL) a nonprofit promoting academic and advocacy skills among urban teens through debate.

Last year, 18 high schools in Harris County participated in CASE Debates, a program with no cost to the district, school, teacher or student. Stipends and training are awarded to teachers like Elsik High debate coach Ashley Freeman, who signed up to coach CASE Debates teams for the past four years and has navigated her team to several championships. Students participate in local and state debate competitions which have lately switched to virtual platforms.


“A key advantage to participating in CASE Debates is that the program provides guided lessons for both the students and teachers to train them in the fundaments of debate,” CASE for Kids Director Dr. Lisa Thompson-Caruthers said. Toni Candis, coordinator of the HCDE CASE Debates program, credits debate as a way for students to foster skills learned in public speaking, analysis, organization, research, teamwork and critical thinking.

“Debate is also proven to improve student’s grade point average and literacy scores while increasing the likelihood of attendance, high school graduation and college matriculation,” Candis said.

Trujillo, 17, says debate opportunity might not have been possible without CASE Debates. Lower socioeconomic communities typically can’t support costly programs which are more common in affluent communities.

“CASE Debates pushes students to learn about things that they aren’t taught in the typical academic classroom,” he said. “It provides a foundation for meaningful learning, not just algebra–but also government and social affairs.”

Trujillo is thinking of going into politics and believes having experience in debate and a spot on the USA Debate Team can only help his college and scholarship applications.

To Castillo, the newfound privilege gives him access to work with national-level coaches and learn advanced debate strategies.

Diego Castillo

Diego Castillo

With four years of debate behind him, he thinks of the year his school competed against an affluent suburban school with USA Debate Team members.

“We got absolutely destroyed,” he said, remembering the significance of the loss. “I thought, I’m going to be that good someday.”

So far this school year, CASE Debates is serving the following school districts: Alief, Galena Park, Harmony Public Schools, Humble, Katy, KIPP Texas Public Schools, Pasadena, Sheldon, Spring Branch, Spring and YES Prep Public Schools.

Schools are urged to join CASE Debates this fall through application submittals. For information about CASE Debates, email

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