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

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.


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.

A number of Potomac School Public Forum teams produced winning records but didn't garner sufficient speaker points to make elimination rounds at Harvard.

Additionally, junior Tom Rollins advanced to quarterfinals in Extemp Speaking while at the Harvard tournament.

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).

At Saturday's WACFL tournament, the team of senior Elly Zhang and junior Ramses Rubio went undefeated and placed fifth. Elly has been a metro qualifier at each WACFL event in which she competed this year. Additionally, junior Catherine Burke and sophomore Jessica Kwon placed 14th in the field of 60 varsity teams with a 3-1 record.

Senior Bonnie McKelvie, junior Tom Rollins, senior Kelsey Bowen, and senior Quentin Levin traveled to the Old Parkland Debates in Dallas. The tournament is a once a year invitational. This challenging event features six international teams competing against six American high schools.

The Potomac School defeated both Argentina and Germany but lost to Canada, Dallas, and Miami. However, Potomac still took a third place finish at the tournament.

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