An independent K-12 school on a beautiful wooded campus, 3 miles from Washington, DC

Speech and Debate Team

Why sign up for Speech and Debate?

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?

Students who participate in debate in both the fall and the winter have the opportunity to do an athletic independent study for one season and receive an activity credit for the other season. Alternatively, 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.


Harry Strong
Upper School Teacher, Director of Forensics, K-12 Public Speaking
(703) 873-6179

Jeremy Metz
Upper School Teacher, Assistant Coach for Speech and Debate
(703) 873-6146

Karin Nordin
Assistant Speech and Debate Coach

Speech and Debate News

The debate team finished the 2019-20 school year by competing virtually in the NSDA National Championships in June. A total of 1,331 schools qualified at least one student for the event. Potomac qualified 25 US students and four IS students – a school record. To qualify, a student must have finished in the top three percent of their event through the NSDA qualification tournaments.


Kaitlyn Maher '21, a member of both the Potomac speech and debate team and the USA Debate National Team, recently published an article on the Aspen Institute's website. She was contacted by an editor from the organization, who was aware of her placement in the top three at the Tournament of Champions in congressional debate this year. Kaitlyn agreed to write a piece bridging competitive debate and classroom political conversations.


Kayla Williamson joins Potomac as an assistant speech and debate coach and full-time substitute teacher, primarily in the Upper School. She is a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, with a dual major in public policy and sociology. Kayla says that participating in speech and debate was an integral part of her education, and she enjoys helping others build their skills and confidence. Kayla’s other interests include writing and ballet.


Eleven Potomac debaters participated in their first-ever virtual tournament, hosted by Georgetown University. In public forum debate, Maryam Abbasi ’20 and Sara Abbasi ’20 advanced to the field of 16. Both will compete in the gold division of the Tournament of Champions next weekend and qualified for the NSDA National Championships in June. In original oratory, Christian Herald ’21 finished as runner-up, and Valentina Raghib ’22 finished in third place; they will also compete in the Tournament of Champions and the NSDA Nationals.


January was a busy time for the debate team! Kay Rollins '21 finished in fourth place at the prestigious Montgomery Bell Academy Extemp Round Robin. This Nashville-based tournament brings together the top 16 extemporaneous speaking students in the U.S. for head-to-head competition.