West Palm Beach, Fla. — Despite extra hours and hard work, the promise of an academic challenge lures a full complement of students to the championship speech and debate program at Twin Lakes High School here. The rewards are an intellectual stimulus and the chance to take part in debating and oratorical competition through the state and in many distant cities with one of the nation's outstanding high school debating teams.
Mrs. Dale McCall, who is in her 14th year as debate teacher and coach at Twin Lakes, recently took 17 of her 80 students to Philadelphia for the Liberty Bell forensic tournament sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania. Her students competed with 72 other teams and came home with the overall sweepstakes award.
The success was not unusual, for the debate room at Twin Lakes overflows with trophies won in state and national competition. During the 1981-82 school year the debaters won the two largest invitational tournaments in the country. They have won 12 national team titles in five years and for three years in a row have won the national tournament sponsored by the Bronx (N. Y.) High School of Science, competing each time with 90 or more other schools.
Why do so many students volunteer for a program that means many extra hours of study and participation on evenings and weekends?
''We should not underestimate the number of high schoolers who are eager to accept a challenge and excel,' says Mrs. McCall. ''There are many who want the college level work offered in forensics and who can do it. They like debating because it disciplines their thinking, . . . provides interesting companionship, and develops powers of persuasion that will be invaluable in college and later life.''
An important incentive is the fact that debate is an honors credit course, offering extra credits toward college entrance.
Because debate attracts the academically motivated, most of Mrs. McCall's students go on to college. Many of them from this racially mixed, middle-class school of some 2,000 have become lawyers, teachers, ministers, and business executives.
Another lure for students to debate is the chance to travel. Teams have competed in Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and other places. But it is not a free ride, and parent-financed trips are not encouraged lest theyexclude able students who cannot afford to travel. Debaters must finance their travel, which runs to about $25,000 a year, as a group effort. They raise some $5,000 of this by selling doughnuts and candy on campus during the school year, with the rest coming from local firms and civic clubs. No travel money is provided by the school board.
For the past five years the Twin Lakes High debaters have had an hour-long weekly radio program over local station WPBR which has been impressed by the school's forensic accomplishments and wants to encourage it. During this program , students discuss a topic of current interest and then open the program to calls from listeners who want to argue or ask questions.
There is no textbook for Mrs. McCall's course. Students keep a file on current events with clips from a number of magazines and newspapers. Besides classwork, there is homework keeping abreast of current affairs in preparation for extemporaneous debates and assignments in original oratory and dramatic interpretation. There is a year-long schedule of debate tournaments throughout the state.
Seventeen-year-old Steven Kapner chose Twin Lakes High School because of its debating program.
''Debate teaches how to communicate and express yourself,'' he explains.
''Besides, I've met some great kids in this program from all over the country. They stimulate me and make me think.''