CANTON – Ben “B.J.” McCollister wants to major in political science and perhaps go into politics.

“I get excited about the political process and would like to get involved,” said the Dirigo High School senior who was elected as a delegate to the party’s state convention at his town’s Democratic caucus Sunday.

He seems to have what it takes for such a career – he just won a national qualifying debate that will send him to Las Vegas in June as Maine’s only representative, going up against more than 200 high school students from around the country in a Lincoln/Douglas debate.

And this is the second time for the 18-year-old from Canton.

“I like getting to know the kids from across the state and learning about topics in politics and American history,” he said Monday afternoon.

His first national competition in Wichita, Kan., in 2007 saw him finish in the top half, debating both sides of the question, “Is violent revolution justified against oppressive governments?” His win two weeks ago at Maranacook High School in Readfield saw him beat debaters from schools many times the size of Dirigo, including Bangor, in an eight-round debate on the question: “Is the U.S. justified in using military force to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by nations that pose a threat?”

In June, he’d like to break into the top quarter of debaters.

Debaters, he said, must be prepared to argue either side.

His mother, Marj, as well as the debate team’s adviser, Brad Conant, encouraged McCollister to join the club when he was a freshman. His mom said he was argumentative and Conant said he has an eye for detail and organization.

“Debating,” McCollister said, “helps me develop my thinking process. It’s logical.”

A student from Dirigo High School has qualified to represent the state in the nationals four times in the 11 years Conant has advised the team: McCollister in 2007 and 2008, and Sara Ray in 2002 and 2003.

Conant said McCollister is driven. “I’m very proud of him,” he said.

After Conant began the debate team at the request of students he said he became addicted to the debate process. He’s become moderator for the Maine Forensic Association for Lincoln/Douglas debates.

His team also takes part in public forum and policy debates, which are more geared toward persuasion, while Lincoln/Douglas debates are more philosophical about what is true and what is false, Conant said.

When McCollister travels to Las Vegas for the June 15 debate, he won’t be going alone. Several debate club members, as well as several parents, will go with him.

Fundraising activities will begin soon in SAD 21 to pay for the trip.

When McCollister isn’t debating, he plays golf, takes part in the technology committee, skis, serves as class president, and designs Web sites. He created the club’s Web site, dirigodebates.googlepages.com

And he wants to go to Harvard. In case that doesn’t work, he also has applied to other colleges outside the state.


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