Much attention is focused on sports in our high schools, and for good reason.

Student-athletes learn valuable life skills, and communities enjoy the hometown spirit and rivalries.

At the same time, it’s also important to celebrate victories in the classroom.

At Garden City High School and beyond in Kansas, students and educators turn in notable achievements in competition based not on athletic prowess, but on academic excellence.

Speech and debate is one area where GCHS continues to stand out.

Much of the credit for the ongoing success must go to Russ Tidwell, GCHS forensics and debate coach. Year after year, Tidwell has mentored students who’ve been superior competitors in statewide competitions.

For his efforts, the veteran teacher at GCHS received yet another accolade in the National Speech & Debate Association’s 2017-2018 Kansas Educator of the Year award. Tidwell also will be considered for the 2017-2018 National Educator of the Year Award, to be announced in March.

While it’s not the first such honor for Tidwell, such recognition always warrants attention because it’s a reminder of the value of forensics and speech instruction.

The National Speech & Debate Association cited Tidwell’s success in providing “outstanding leadership in helping students improve their communication skills, build confidence and increase critical thinking skills. All of these skills will better prepare students for college, a career and a successful life after school.”

Students are challenged in various ways. Competition centers on extemporaneous speaking, dramatic and humorous interpretation, impromptu speaking, original oratory, poetry and prose reading, and one- and two-person acting events.

It’s easy to see how students with such experience become more engaged citizens, skilled professionals and leaders in their communities. Indeed, skills acquired — the ability to speak confidently in front of people, act professionally and compete — promise to pay dividends in any future endeavor.

A full education should extend beyond reading, writing, arithmetic and other basics to include speech and debate. But in some states, unfortunately, those programs have been erased through budget cuts.

That’s shortsighted. Speech and debate should not only be available in Kansas and other states, but expanded as a way to improve the educational experience.