By Mary Stewart
Via Wyoming News Exchange
DOUGLAS — As these two seniors sit at the table in the high school library, it’s difficult to remember which one is which.
Both are dressed in white T-shirts and faded blue jeans, typical of most high school students. Their hair cuts are identical, as are their mannerisms and their smiles. One sports a dice tattoo on his left forearm. That helps keep them straight, but the other insists that one day he will have an identical one inked on his arm. They argue like brothers about why he hasn’t done that already.
Each moves his hands nervously when he talks. They are both somewhat shy – that is until something overtakes them. They instantly become animated, their hands folded, clenched, unfolded and unclenched almost in unison.
The more Brandon and Alex Witbrod talk, the more their eyes shine, the faster they talk and the passion that their coach sees in them comes shining through.
The identical twins are ranked top in Wyoming in debate; it’s no wonder given Alex’s shy analytical nature and Brandon’s more vocal passion for arguing.
They work together like a well-oiled machine. Each one knows his predefined role. Each knows his strengths. And his weaknesses – because if either fails to mention it, his brother will surely pipe up and help him remember.
The brothers work for hours to hone their talents, spending hours upon hours researching, formulating and practicing with one goal in mind: to take down their opponents and become the best. But becoming the best also means outdoing each other. The competition to hold the top spot alone is anything but a secret. The Witbrods are eager to work together to crush other teams.
And they are unrelenting in their verbal assaults, especially Brandon’s during rebuttals.
“I’m more straight forward,” Alex points out. “Brandon is much more direct and sometimes rude.” Brandon quickly replies. “It’s not like I lose my cool. I’m not rude to people,” he insists.
“I take advantage of everything that I can get to which can harm us. I move super fast in the rounds.”
“When I make the arguments I’m calm and very matter of fact,” Alex says. “He does a better job cutting our opponents’ legs out from under them.”
Despite their amazingly successful joint efforts, there is an underlying tension: the fierce competition between themselves.
“The way that the National Speech and Debate Association ranks people across the country, or in your district, is they give you points,” Brandon says. “You can earn between one and six points for winning a round or for congress events.”
“We get a lot of sixes,” Alex inserts.
They interrupt each other often, many times fluidly finishing each other’s sentences as if only one of them is actually talking. As they go back and forth with their ranking and their overall points, their competitiveness is apparent.
“Right now, I am second in the team’s history. Alex is third, and we’re on track to beat the school record, which is 2,052 by Carolyn Smylie,” Brandon boasts.
“We’re both sitting around 1,600 points right now, with only an 11 point difference,” Alex interjects, obviously annoyed by his brother’s dominance.
“Alex has never been ahead of me, so . . .” Brandon fires back.
They are both at the premier distinction level, a quintuple ruby, which is the highest honor that speech and debate students can earn.
“We’re both nationally ranked in the top 400,” Alex adds confidently.
One of the many things that these twins have in common was their hesitation to even join the speech and debate team as freshmen.
“I was never interested, but my math teacher in eighth grade pulled me into the hallway one day and told me, ‘Alex, you’re going to be on my speech and debate team,’” he explains.
Brandon had gotten the same “suggestion” so they went to a meeting.
“I thought ‘Yea, I’ll try this out,’” Brandon now admits. “By the second or third tournament, I was in love.”
They laugh that their parents haven’t won an argument against them in years.
“I tell them they should have seen this coming since they were the ones who made us go to the first meeting,” Alex said.
“I mean, really it’s their fault,” Brandon concurs.
They agree that the competition in real life is nothing like you see in movies or on TV.
“Everyone thinks that speech and debate is like a speech class when you’re giving a presentation or a report in front of the class,” Brandon shakes his head.
You can enter about a dozen different events.
“The first tournament we went to was in Cheyenne South and the first round we had was a congress round,” Brandon recalls. “I remember coming out (of the round and) I went to Coach Joel (Schell) and said, ‘This is awesome!’”
Their future as stellar DHS debaters was sealed. The brothers started competing in two events as freshmen and have excelled through their high school career.
“We do public forum, which is a partner debate based on current events,” Alex notes. “Then we do congressional debate, which is a mock congress. You write legislation, bring it to the tournament and everyone debates on what was presented.”
Currently, the brothers are ranked first and second in the state in the congress competition and first as a team in public forum.
Brandon enjoys the fast pace, hard-hitting part of the debate, while Alex is more fact-based and methodical.
“You find ways to pick apart someone’s argument,” Brandon exclaims. “It is just really satisfying when you can just tear it down. You’ve done more work and you know how to do it.”
Alex starts their 40-minute rounds with the constructive part. He explains their opinion on the topic and why their side is the best.
Brandon comes next and does his best to disprove the opponent’s argument.
“I like to go super fast and tear their argument apart,” he admits, to which Alex readily agrees is his brother’s strength.
Alex returns with his summary on the topic, one last chance to convince the judges that their view is superior.
Finally, Brandon steps in for the final focus, a last chance to demonstrate the weaknesses in their opponents’ stance.
Their time on speech and debate has opened many doors and has taught them the skills they need to go on to separate out-of-state universities to pursue degree in government and pre-law. While they have spent the first 18 years of their lives together nearly 24 hours a day, they plan on attending college apart.
Brandon is looking at Pennsylvania because his best friend from the speech and debate world is enrolled there. He is the more social one, after all.
Alex hopes to go to school in Tennessee because he has no connections there and looks forward to new adventures.
He is more introverted, he admits. In fact, at a recent Douglas Rotary Club meeting where he was being honored, he told the crowd they might recognize him from other public events before pausing . . . then adding, “Yeah, that wasn’t me. It was my twin brother Brandon.”