Written by: Emily Nelson, DCS Executive Director of Leadership Development
John Grisham, a DeSoto County School graduate, is among the bestselling authors of all time. Grisham began selling books while a young lawyer in DeSoto County. His first novel, A Time to Kill, is set in the fictional Ford County, Mississippi, which many locals recognize as DeSoto County.
With the release of Sycamore Row, the sequel to A Time to Kill, John Grisham is choosing to look back and say, thank you, by calling attention to a program that teaches students to harness the power of words. Speech and Debate, as conducted through chapters of the National Forensic League, is the largest academic competition in the world. In 2010, DeSoto County Schools began a fledgling Speech and Debate program which addresses speaking and listening skills required by the Common Core State Standards.
Two years ago, DeSoto County Schools, supported by the Ballard Memorial Fund (Brenda Ballard was John Grisham’s former 8th grade English teacher), hosted our first statewide invitational speech and debate tournament. Several hundred students from six DeSoto County Schools and a dozen other schools from across Mississippi participated. Last year, a $5,000 gift from the Mississippi Land Bank allowed DeSoto County Schools to host the second statewide tournament with double the participants.
Speech and debate within DCS high schools is taking root and starting to grow. Several high schools sent teams to tournaments hosted by Mississippi State and Ole Miss. A debate team from Lake Cormorant High School placed third in the state tournament. Our students are beginning to excel in the arts of reading, writing, speaking, and listening through competition.
Now with the support of the John Grisham Book Raffle, DeSoto County Schools will continue to offer a statewide tournament that is free to competitors. Our most talented students will compete locally, regionally, statewide, and if talent and good fortune prevail, nationally. Future plans are to award Brenda Ballard Memorial Scholarships to the winners. We also hope to provide team travel scholarships. This scholarship will give the highest ranked visiting team a chance to return to our tournament the following year and our local highest ranked team a chance to travel to a tournament in another part of the state.
The purchase of a $5 ticket will give the ticket holder a chance to win a valuable John Grisham autographed collection of his books. Funds raised from the raffle will provide even greater opportunities to our students participating in Speech and Debate, while possibly revealing another John Grisham from the ranks of DeSoto County Schools.
Those interested in supporting Speech and Debate by purchasing raffle tickets should go to www.grishambooks.com to purchase the $5 tickets. All proceeds will go to the Ballard Memorial Fund to support the Speech and Debate program in DeSoto County Schools.