Three Potomac students surprised the field of competitors at the large University of Florida Blue Key Tournament at the end of October. More than 200 students from across the nation competed at the tournament, and many of schools that entered competed with squads of 50 or more.
Speech and Debate Team
The most common reason that students compete in Speech and Debate is that it’s fun! If that strikes you as odd, consider these thoughts:
1) You will make friends at other schools all over the metro area and the state of Virginia. Eventually, your friend base will grow to include students throughout the nation. Only in debate to you get to know and become friends with your opponents!
2) We travel all over the country to compete. The more successful you become, the more opportunities you will have for travel. During the 2016-17 school year, we traveled to the University of New Orleans, the University of Florida, the University of Kentucky, Wake Forest University, Harvard University, Georgetown University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The team also took additional trips to Minneapolis, Birmingham, Chicago, and Raleigh-Durham. Plus, two of our students even competed in the Dominican Republic over Spring Break!
3) Outsmarting your opponents provides a sense of accomplishment, especially given that public speaking greatly scares many people!
4) If you like competing, then this is an activity for you. Debate is as competitive as any sport!
5) You get to spend time a group of really smart, cool people who will make help you become even more intelligent.
6) Only in speech and debate to you really get to “Suit Up” and love it.
Speech and Debate is an activity that allows for continual self-improvement.
1) This is a life-changing experience. You will become a profoundly stronger student and more effective at any profession in the future because of a speech and debate background. A 2015 Pew Research study shows that 90% of American adults said the best things to learn in school to get ahead were communication skills, logic, writing, and teamwork—exactly the skills we teach in speech and debate! Plus, during the 2016-17 school year, three Potomac School students were named Academic All-Americans in debate!
2) There are lots of college opportunities and scholarships in Speech and Debate!
• Colleges naturally recruit Speech and Debate students at a higher level than athletes.
• Did you know the University for Alabama has won more national debate titles (19) than national football titles (16)?
Speech and Debate is for everyone, not just future lawyers!
The truth is that debate students enter all professions in life. Coach Strong has seen his former debaters become chefs, engineers, scientists, businessmen and businesswomen, researchers, public policy experts, lawyers, ministers, and doctors. The truth is that debate helps any student in any profession.
What is Speech and Debate like at Potomac?
Potomac competes in several styles of debate. Public forum and worlds schools debate are the common forms. Public forum debate involves teams of two students debating a topic that has been researched for a month before competition. Worlds schools debate is involves teams of three students debating both prepared and impromptu “Parli” styled motions. After school practices consist of skills development, scrimmages, research, and a lot of conversation!
What kinds of topics are debated?
The topics are very timely and reflect what students and families might read about or see in the news. Here were some 2016-17 resolutions we debated:
Public Forum Resolutions:
- Resolved: Deployment of anti-missile systems is in South Korea’s best interest.
- Resolved: The United States should lift its embargo against Cuba.
Worlds Schools Motions
- This House would establish a living wage.
- This House regrets U.S. influence on international environmental policy.
Does Speech and Debate count as an activity or a team sport credit?
Yes! Both fall and winter debate can count toward a team sport credit; debaters may participate in one or both seasons. Some students choose debate in the fall and then play a sport in the winter, and vice versa. However, the most successful debaters tend to be those who compete in both seasons, and most of our returning debaters plan to compete in both seasons next year.
How successful was the Potomac School team this past year?
In total, 32 Upper School students and 16 Intermediate and Middle School students competed in Speech and Debate during the 2016-17 school year. The 2016-17 team finished third in the Virginia High School Speech and Debate power rankings! The program qualified 11 students to compete in the National Speech and Debate Association National Championships.
One of Potomac’s public forum teams finished in the top 30 in the United States—out of 10,000 teams that attempted to win the National Championship. The program produced a top 60 finish in extemporaneous speaking and sixth place nationally in the Reagan Great Communicator Debate championships. Plus an Intermediate School student won three national championships in Speech!
What if my student has no previous experience?
Everyone begins as a novice, and we welcome students from all Upper School grades. Finding one’s voice competing is the first challenge. After that, learning debate is pretty simple.
What does the practice schedule look like?
The debate team functions just like a sports team in that we have daily practices and two weekend tournaments per month. Practices are daily from 3:30 to 5:30 pm (with some Wednesdays off).
What kind of student makes a good debater? Is debate “too academic” for my student?
There are lots of ways to be a great debater, and our debate team includes many different personalities. Generally, the best debaters are people that are intellectually curious, can think critically about a topic, and are competitive by nature.
Debate is one of the few extracurricular activities that will make a student smarter, as students will learn to think on their feet, organize their thoughts, and examine the critical issues of the day. In the short term, most debaters will notice that debate will help them in the classroom. Over the long term, debate significantly increases the success rate of college applicants. While debate is certainly academic in nature, the activity is also fun and provides a great creative outlet outside of the classroom. Most debaters are “hooked” once they compete at their first tournament, and the activity promotes and teaches many of the same virtues of a competitive sport, such as the importance of diligence and teamwork.
After a strong September, Potomac debaters continued to excel into the first weekend of October. Freshman Kay Rollins continues her quest to become the top extemporaneous student in the U.S. Currently ranked second, Kay competed in the Crestian Tradition National Circuit Tournament in Florida. She won two of the three events in which she competed. Kay had a comeback victory in the special invitational, won international extemp, and finished fifth out of 50 in domestic extemp.
Three Potomac School debaters competed at the Holy Cross School tournament in New Orleans in late September. The team of sophomore Maryam Abbasi and juniors Max Shenkman and Jessica Kwon was undefeated and won the World Schools division of the tournament.
Upper School debaters excelled at two different tournaments over the weekend. Additionally, the first 2017-18 national circuit debate rankings were released, and five Potomac students or teams fall within the top 100 in the nation in their events.
Congratulations to sophomores Jessica Kwon and Max Shenkman, who won the JV division of the Harvard National Forensics Tournament this past weekend in Cambridge, MA. The pair was undefeated and seeded 2nd in prelims out of 263 teams. Max and Jessica were equally successful on both sides of the Cuba embargo resolution.
Over the weekend of February 11 and 12, Potomac debaters competed at the University of Pennsylvania, in the Old Parkland Debates in Dallas, and with the Washington-Arlington Catholic Forensic League (WACFL).
Over the weekend of January 28-29, Potomac saw multiple debate successes. Competing at Broad Run in Ashburn, VA, juniors Max Morehouse and Ramses Rubio won the varsity championship of Public Forum Debate.
In the same tournament, freshmen Maryam Abbasi and Sara Abbasi placed third, and sophomores Max Shenkman and Jessica Kwan were sixth. Competing in Original Oratory, senior Alex Arroyo finished in second place. All varsity and novice debaters achieved a record of 3-1 or better. Potomac's two JV entries finished 6th and 7th overall.
Meanwhile, in Basking Ridge, NJ, 8th grade debater Kay Rollins reached the semi-finals in Extemporaneous Speaking at the Ridge Tournament.
Last weekend, Potomac debate team members attended a national circuit tournament hosted by Durham Academy (NC).
Competing in Public Forum Debate, senior Quentin Levin and junior William Thompson just missed winning the championship in a highly competitive round vs. Pinecrest High School (NC). The pair earned their second bid to the Tournament of Champions in late April.
Equally impressive were junior Tom Rollins and 8th grader Kay Rollins; Tom won in Extemp and Kay had her best Extemp tournament of the year, finishing second. Both also made the semi-finals in their secondary events. Tom was recently named a top-16 Extemp debate student in the United States. This month, he took 13th place while competing mainly among seniors in the Montgomery Bell Academy Extemp Round Robin in Nashville.The tournament features the top 16 students in head-to-head match-ups.
The team will compete in Atlanta, New York, Dallas, and Cambridge over the next few months
Potomac debaters saw success at a recent national-level tournament at The Blake School in Minneapolis. Two Potomac teams competing in World Schools Debate finished in 3rd and 4th place; the team members were junior Tom Rollins, senior Bonnie McKelvie, junior Jay Younger, sophomore Max Shenkman, junior Jessica Kwon, and freshman Anna Lerner. Potomac's success included a rare win over Team USA Debate, the US High School National Team. Additionally, Bonnie McKelvie was named the 2nd-best speaker in the World Schools Debate division.
Potomac's Public Forum team, consisting of senior Quentin Levin and junior Will Thompson, finished in the top 32 teams among a field of almost 150 entries. Quentin was the 11th-best speaker and Will was the 19th-best speaker out of more than 300 participants in the Public Forum field. The team then competed in the round-robin invitational, finishing in 3rd place.
Eighth grader Kay Rollins recently competed in Extemporaneous Speaking at a tournament hosted by The Blake School in Minneapolis. There were three one-day events, in which Kay finished 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Overall she took home 2nd place among those who competed in all three events.
In early December, 17 Potomac students competed at the George Mason University National Circuit speech and debate tournament, the largest in the nation.
Junior Tom Rollins led Potomac and finished third in a national field of extemporaneous speakers. Tom also advanced to the semi-final round in impromptu speaking. He was recently invited to compete in Montgomery Bell Academy's Extemp Round-Robin in January, which brings together the top 16 extemporaneous student speakers in the U.S. as they prepare for a national championship in the spring.
Also at the tournament, the public forum debate team of senior Quentin Levin and junior William Thompson advanced to the round of 16 out of 200 teams. Juniors Max Morehouse and Ramses Rubio advanced to the round of 64.
Additionally, this past weekend, Max Morehouse and senior Elly Zhang placed 10th in the Washington-Arlington Catholic Forensics League MEGA tournament, held at Lake Braddock Secondary School.
The team travels to Minneapolis this weekend to compete in a challenging national tournament.
The debate team competed in the Washington-Arlington Catholic Forensic League Tournament this past weekend. The senior team of Elly Zhang and India Cutler (pictured above) took 3rd place, and juniors Will Thompson and Max Morehouse were 5th. Additionally, seniors Kelsey Bowen and Bonnie McKelvie came in 9th, while sophomores Max Shenkman and Jessica Kwon finished 11th. In total, 324 teams from 43 schools competed in the event. Potomac's varsity team won 75 percent of its rounds.
The National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) honored Speech and Debate Coach and US faculty member Harry Strong, designating him with Second Diamond membership in the NSDA honor society in recognition of his students' performance. Harry is one of just two Virginia coaches with this honor.
Potomac won the Georgetown University Public Forum Debate tournament this weekend. Senior Quentin Levin and junior Will Thompson paired for the championship. The tournament featured 75 teams from nine states trying to win a Tournament of Championships bid. The boys defeated New York's Poly Prep to take home the victory.