Cactus Clash

Yesterday evening I had the privilege of being a community judge at the 2015 Cactus Clash. This event is a speech and debate tournament for home schooled 12–18 year olds. What an amazing event! There were certainly hundreds of kids there. It was a whole new world that I didn’t even know existed. A friend of mine invited me to be involved. I share a great passion for Christian Apologetics with this friend of mine. We talk on almost a daily basis about apologetics and theological topics as we walk around this lake by our place of employment.

We didn’t know what to expect at this event, so we arrived there early. At sign in, we expressed our interest in being involved in the Apologetics part of the competition. Luckily, we were able to be assigned to judge apologetics speeches. After signing in, we asked if we could sit in on a debate to get a feel for how this worked. We found out that the competition consisted of 2 debate formats:

  1. Team Policy Debate (2 person teams)
  2. Lincoln Douglas Debate (individual competitor)

We were directed to a room where the format was Lincoln Douglas. There, 2 young adults were debating the topic of education with a focus on liberal arts vs. education that focuses on “practical skills”. It was an eye-opener! These kids were sharp! And it was a very formal debate format. After 45 minutes of debate, I walked out of there getting a sense of the seriousness of the event.

Next was our training. We were given our judging packets with a list of possible apologetics questions that the students could be given. Here was the list of questions:

  1. What does it mean that God is eternal? Why does this matter?
  2. What does it mean that God is holy? Why does this matter?
  3. Does God reveal Himself to man?
  4. Where did God come from?
  5. What does the unity of Scripture mean? Why does this matter?
  6. Is the Old Testament historically reliable?
  7. Can the Bible be trustworthy when it has been translated so many times?
  8. Does science contradict the Bible?
  9. What does sanctification mean? Why does this matter?
  10. What does the resurrection of the body mean? Why does this matter?
  11. Did a loving God create Hell?

The apologetics event is what they call a “Limited Preparation Event”. Here is the description of the Apologetics event:

In Apologetics, the competitor is given four (4) minutes to prepare a speech that defends a tenet of the Christian faith. The speaker crafts a speech to reach those curious, not in agreement, or Biblically uninformed with persuasiveness and reasoning.

And here is the goal of the Apologetics event:

Competitors will be motivated to study, articulate, and defend the core issues of their faith in a knowledgeable, sincere, gentle, and respectful manner.

Here is some more information on the Apologetics event:

Apologetics Preparation Rules:

  1. Competitors prepare for Apologetics through Bible study, research, analysis, and organization.
  2. Each competitor may create a card file with Scripture, definitions, quotations, and any other material deemed to be helpful.
  3. Competitors may work together on boxes prior to the tournament in order to research and compile information, but they may not share boxes during competition.

Apologetics Administration Rules:

  1. One judge in each room will be given instructions regarding room administration and the envelope of topics to distribute to the competitors.
  2. A list of possible topics will be given to each of the judges in the room.
  3. In the room, the competitor will draw three (3) single topics provided by the tournament, choose one (1), and return the other two (2) topics before leaving the room. The chosen topic should not be returned.
  4. Preparation time begins as soon as the competitor receives the topic choices.
  5. The timekeeper will start the digital timepiece when the competitor receives the topics and will give verbal countdown signals every thirty (30) seconds until four (4) minutes have elapsed.
  6. Unused preparation time may not be added to the speaking time.
  7. All questions/topics must come from the Apologetics Questions list on the main Speech Events page of the Stoa USA website.
  8. Apologetics judges should be in agreement with Stoa’s Statement of Faith. They will be given an additional orientation for this event using the Apologetics Orientation slides found on the main Speech Events page of the Stoa USA website.

Apologetics Presentation Rules:

  1. The competitor must answer the topic selected and MUST DEFEND THEIR POSITION.
  2. The speech must be the original work of the competitor, and may be supported by Scripture, quotations, and analysis from outside sources (e.g. commentaries, literature, news articles, testimonials, etc.)
  3. The question or topic should be approached from an apologetic perspective. It may or may not be an evangelistic opportunity.
  4. The competitor crafts a speech to reach those curious, not in agreement, or Biblically uninformed with persuasiveness and reasoning. The audience’s acceptance of the truth of the Bible should not be assumed.
  5. During prep time, the competitor may or may not use a Bible, access card files, and write additional notes on note cards.
  6. No computers, Kindles, iPods, cell phones, or other electronic media devices may be used for Apologetics preparation or presentation.
  7. During the speech, the competitor should use only note cards. Speaker may not use a Bible.
  8. The competitor must state the given topic early in the speech and adhere to it.
  9. No audio or visual aids or props may be used.
  10. Gratuitous vulgarity is strictly prohibited.
  11. The competitor must not listen to other Apologetics competitors speaking before him. He may stay after he has given his speech to listen to subsequent speakers.
  12. The timekeeper will start the digital timepiece when the competitor begins and will stop the digital timepiece when the competitor finishes. Hand signals will be given each minute showing the minutes remaining, at thirty seconds remaining, and a countdown from ten to zero seconds.
  13. Maximum speaking time is six (6) minutes. Preparation time – four (4) minutes. Speaking time – six (6) minutes. No minimum time.

Our speech competition started and we had 7 students to judge. I was one of 3 judges in the room along with 1 time keeper. The rhythm is rapid fire. The contestant comes into the room, and selects 3 of the questions (turned over) from the judges table. Then they have 4 minutes to choose one of the 3 topics and prepare for it on the spot. The student comes in with a box full of notecards which they’ve prepared ahead of time. After the allotted preparation time, the speaker moves to the front of the small room. They don’t immediately tell you which topic they’ve chosen. The speaker normally starts with some kind of a “zinger” – some kind of anecdote or personal story related to the topic to draw you in. Shortly they get around to telling you what question they’ve chosen. They have 6 minutes to answer the topic they’ve chosen. All seven of them had 3 point arguments – they must’ve been trained to do that. Below is the ballot the judges use to provide feedback to each speaker:


It was a daunting task to be a judge, but at the same time, very rewarding and encouraging. I definitely want to do this again. Out of the 7 speakers, there were 3 that, in my mind were in the top tier, 2 in the middle and 2 on the bottom. They all had great points and were well prepared.

A lot more could be said about this event than I have time for now. Witnessing this event and these young people gave me great hope that there is actually a generation of Christians being raised up that will be change agents in the culture, able to defend the Christian worldview in a captivating manner with gentleness, respect, conviction, compassion and clarity. I pray for these 7 speakers: Matthew, Nick, Jacob, Elizabeth, Nathan, Chase and Scott. I pray Lord that You might continue to nurture them and watch over them, growing them into mature, committed and thoughtful followers of Jesus Christ, who You can use to draw many to Yourself!

(Here are some links to find out more: STOA  Mars Hill Speech and Debate)


7 thoughts on “Cactus Clash

  1. Moses

    Excellent post. I know one of the competitors you judged. We’ve been in this a few years. Stoa’s speech and debate has marked both our sons for life. In our homeschool journey, nothing we have done outside (of course, what happens inside our home is even more critical) of our home has come remotely close to the impact of speech and debate on their lives including having a vision for life, capacity and desire to communicate, developing leadership, getting scholarships etc. It has been an amazing ride. We also have many friends who started the process a few years back who will say the same.


    • 1peter41216

      Very cool! Small world! I’m interested to know how you ran into this post. We’re you at the event Friday night? I would love to find out who won the event I was judging. Do you know where I can find the results?


      • Lynda Stefani

        1Peter41216, I am a parent whose children competed in the Cactus Clash and am in the same club as Moses, who replied above. (Hope Moses doesn’t mind me jumping in and replying to your question.) The results of the tournament will be posted tomorrow at Once the results for The Cactus Clash have been posted, you’ll see the tournament name listed with the AZ tournaments. Within the tournament, each speech event will be listed, along with the competitors’ names. Next to the names of the top 40% in each event you’ll see a green checkmark. Once a competitor earns two checkmarks in any given event (which means they were in the top 40% in two different tournaments), they will be invited to compete in the national tournament, the National Invitational Tournament of Champions.

        By the way, Your blog was uncovered by Chase’s dad who googled his son’s name looking for any online tournament info since they live out of state and the dad was unable to attend the tournament. John shared the blog with a few of us from the same club.

        I wholeheartedly concur with Moses’ comments.

        Thank you for such an inspiring blogsite. Have a blessed day, Lynda

        Liked by 1 person

      • Moses

        Thanks Lynda!

        1peter41216, I was not at the tournament as I had to work. I was sent the link by Chase’s dad.

        THANK YOU again for judging. Community judges is one of the most critical aspects of enabling a tournament to run on time. We appreciate your ministering to our young people and families.


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