While some aspects of this academic year are different as a result of the global pandemic, the nationally ranked Marist Speech & Debate program continues on without interruption after moving to a 100% virtual program.
Since April, Marist’s varsity debaters have been crafting their skills and adjusting to the new online setting, and, this fall, they welcomed a new wave of students called “novices” into the speech and debate family.
By shifting completely online, the competitive debate season will stay on course no matter what may arise. While Marist debaters are not practicing in person or physically traveling to tournaments every weekend, they are virtually attending the tournaments from the comfort of home. In the meantime, they have perfected their at-home workspaces, complete with two computer monitors, headsets, and desks that look professional and debate-ready.
Speech & Debate is an academic competition that requires students to exhibit intelligence, hard work, determination, motivation, and the desire to be successful. The Speech & Debate program mostly competes in public forum debate—a two-person team activity that centers on current events—although debaters at Marist have the opportunity to try other formats, setting Marist’s program apart from other schools’ programs. Mr. Jeffrey Miller directs the debate program and Ms. Abby Schirmer serves as the associate director. Describing the program, Mr. Miller said, “We are committed to giving our students every opportunity that is available…that’s the Marist way. We do as much as we can on the coaching level to make sure that our students have as many opportunities as possible.”
Approximately 60 students participate in debate each year, with half of the students on the varsity team. The other half are first-year debaters, ranging from 8th to 10th grade students. Students are required to attend at least one to two tournaments per month from September to March, and students who are serious national competitors attend summer debate institutes. Practices are held daily after school from August to March.
One of the most active and competitive programs in the nation, Marist’s Speech & Debate program competes at 30 tournaments per year across the country. The program is nationally recognized as a chapter charter member of the National Speech & Debate Association and an annual member of the National Debate Coaches Association. One of the most decorated extracurricular activities at Marist, the Speech & Debate program has won 12 state championships, with 136 students qualifying for national championships and the program placing in the top 10 nationally eight times in the past 10 years.
This year’s topic for policy debate is focused on criminal justice reform, while public forum debaters are investigating the benefits and harms of enacting a single payer health insurance program system. Mr. Miller described how when students research these timely topics, they are forced to go outside of their comfort zones and understand and examine their own beliefs. He said the hope is that through debate, participants will become “more informed, more engaged in the democratic process, more engaged at college, and better humans.”
Sydney Vance ’21, a fourth-year debater and this year’s team president, became involved in debate after realizing she was more interested in pursuing her interest in public speaking than continuing in sports. For Sydney, debate “makes me more open-minded because I am more informed on different topics.”
Sydney’s debate partner Claire Lauterbach ’22 is a fifth-year debater and the team development captain. While Claire initially began debating at her father’s urging, she was surprised by how much she enjoyed competing. She said, “I started debate at a different school, and my family gravitated to Marist because of the debate program here. I fell in love with the community.”
Fourth-year debater Anthony Ovadje ’21 joined debate because he was interested in the competitive environment and traveling to tournaments. He said, “I like being on a team and working together to succeed in a tournament.”
His debate partner Lauryn Walker ’21, who is team chaplain and a fellow fourth-year debater, enjoys being a part of the debate family. Through debate, Lauryn said she has become a better speaker and researcher. She said, “It’s made me smarter in my classes, and I am able to have deeper conversations with my teachers.”
All four debaters plan to build upon the skills they have learned through Marist’s Speech & Debate program—writing, researching, and examining and articulating their beliefs—in college and beyond.
For a glimpse of the debaters in action, watch
Sydney, Claire, Anthony, and Lauryn debate about Medicare for all.