The Spence Debate Team made Upper School history after junior debaters Dori N. and Sara C. took home a second-place win in the Junior Varsity Public Forum division of the University of Pennsylvania Liberty Bell Classic Tournament.
“This is the best a Spence debate team has ever done on the national circuit,” said Darrah P. ’21. In addition to Dori and Sara’s notable win for the first time ever in a competition of this caliber, Darrah noted that thanks to their stellar performance the two days prior, all Spence debaters were among the small group of students who made it to the final, playoff-like rounds of the competition.
The team was joined by advisor Roman Garcia and parent judge and University of Pennsylvania alumnus Gregory Myers, father of debater Charlotte M. ’22.
Garcia noted that, along with the junior team’s victory, “freshmen debaters Charlotte M., and Olivia S. put up a valiant effort, striding into octofinals with ease, and Artemis X. ’21 and Darrah also debated with finesse and precision, putting up a tooth-and-nail effort all through the qualifying rounds.”
“Though exhausting, it was very fun to have an opportunity to have higher competition on Sunday,” Darrah emphasized.
“The students have a huge amount of endurance,” Garcia added, noting that they regularly practiced at Manhattan Debate League sessions before the competition.
Additionally, “we researched the topic until we fully understood both sides of the argument, and then we wrote two cases (one pro and one con) about the question of whether or not the United States should cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Artemis explained. “That prep came before we even left for Philadelphia. We also gathered evidence that could be used to refute common arguments from both sides to use in rebuttals.”
Team members continued to refine their skills as the tournament progressed. “When we go to the tournament, we go together as a team, and have freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors all debating alongside each other and learning from each other,” Garcia said.
“We all go to watch each other’s rounds,” he explained, noting that students reflect on their performances in “an extremely supportive environment” and adjust their debate strategies accordingly.
Garcia further explained that Spence students are “trained to think on their feet.”
“Our students have this agility and liveliness about them, sort of a creative engine that helps them produce arguments on the fly and be responsive to each other,” he added.
A different group of Spence debaters took this agility with them to the Harvard Invitational debate the following weekend, where they debated the same topic. Harvard debaters included senior Mabel L.; juniors: Sara C., Gabby P., Alexandra F., Caroline C. and Lucy R.; sophomores: Kathryn “Kate” D., Chloe S., Alexandra R. and Laura T.; and freshmen Menemsha “Mena” S. and Ana Lucia M.
“The students brought a fierce sense of competitiveness to Harvard and an eagerness to learn more,” said Spence coach Kyle Hietala.
Parent chaperone and judge Lara Stein noted, “The six Public Forum Spence teams, three varsity and three JV teams, battled through six rounds in two days. The topic of U.S. selling arms to Saudi Arabia was current and exciting, adding energy and engagement to the tournament.”
“There were also plenty of laughs and light-hearted moments along the way—a true reflection of a team with a positive culture,” Hietala added.
Garcia agreed: “The team environment is overwhelmingly compassionate and spontaneously kind,” he said, noting that students are constantly complimenting one another and lifting each other up.
“You don't need to know anything coming in,” Artemis emphasized, as she reflected on her own start with the club. “The first topic I ever debated about was the deployment of anti-missile systems in South Korea. Did I walk into the club knowing even one fact about this topic? Absolutely not. Did I end the month absorbed in the issue? Yes.”
“Take advantage of a club like this,” Artemis added. “You will know more than you ever thought you could about worldwide issues.”
“Debate is a life skill, an opportunity to meet new people, learn about more current events and a way to experience the thrill of competitions,” Darrah said. “Debate has taught me to understand and argue for a perspective that I may not believe in, but very well might be right.”