Up for Debate: HB’s Speech & Debate Program Helps Girls Discover and Use Their Voices

‪From Knitting to Young Politicians, there are dozens of extracurricular clubs and activities designed to appeal to Hathaway Brown Upper School girls’ diverse interests. One of the most popular programs is Speech & Debate, which has more than 60 participants in grades 9-12. In terms of size and achievements earned, HB has one of the strongest teams in the state.

Now in its 11th year, HB’s Speech & Debate team recently was designated a member of the “200 Club” by the National Forensics League. According to program advisor Jason Habig (pictured below), “Every time an HB student competes in a speech or debate event—win or lose—she earns points for herself and for the school. These points advance the student into different levels of accomplishment. HB is one of only 13 schools in Ohio to have more than 200 ‘members and degrees’ and most of the other schools with the designation are large public schools that have many more total students competing. In the history of our program, HB students have earned more than 42,000 points, and since you earn three points for losing a debate and six points for winning it, that gives you a sense of how much speaking and debating has been going on at HB for the last decade.”

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Habig was tapped by Head of School Bill Christ to establish the Speech & Debate program at HB in 2005. He had been a policy debater himself at Saint Ignatius High School and Case Western Reserve University, and he began coaching at SIHS when he was a freshman in college until he joined the faculty at HB. In addition to overseeing this successful program, Habig is an eighth-grade history teacher, chair of the Middle School history department, and director of HB’s summer programs. He also holds the Ann Corlett Ford Chair in History. With a regular season that includes one- or two-day tournaments each weekend from October through January, state and national tournaments in February and March, and after-school practices for 13 different events, supervising the Speech & Debate program is quite a commitment.

Habig thoroughly enjoys it though, and says he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I know how important this activity was to my own intellectual development, and I want to give that same experience to others,” he says. Speech & Debate is set up at HB in such a way as to allow every student to compete at the level to which she is able. Some students take part in tournaments only a few times a year, and others compete each and every week during the season. “It is a perfect activity for anyone who wants to do something competitive, but isn’t necessarily into athletics,” Habig says. “It is also a great way for students to develop specific skills, including research skills, public speaking skills, and critical thinking skills. To me, though, the biggest benefits of doing Speech & Debate are those that are less obvious. I find that Speech & Debate teaches students to be more organized, to be better listeners, and to be more concise in their writing and speaking.”

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Program participants have racked up several notable accomplishments in recent years. In 2013, three HB students advanced to the finals of the International Public Policy Forum after engaging in written and oral debates against schools from more than 25 countries and 30 different U.S. states. More than 20 girls have qualified for the state tournament for the last three years. HB has had students advance into the state semifinals in Extemporaneous Speaking for three consecutive years, and into the finals of Congressional Debate for four consecutive years at the Ohio High School Speech League state tournament. In 2015, Morgan Austin ’15 advanced to the final round of Congressional Debate at the National Speech & Debate tournament in Birmingham, Ala.

In February, four HB debaters qualified for the 2016 National Speech & Debate Association competition, which will take place in Salt Lake City this June. Isha Lele ’18 (who qualified for the second consecutive year), will represent the school in Congressional Debate. The team of Julia Sabik ’17 and Margaret Broihier ’17 will participate in Policy Debate competition, and Gigi Protasiewicz ’17 will compete in Lincoln-Douglas Debate. Gigi was the undefeated debater at the National Qualifiers, and she had the opportunity to debate in front of a live audience in the High School Debate Championship at The City Club of Cleveland in March, where she finished victorious.


This story first appeared in Hathaway Brown School’s Spring/Summer 2016 issue of HB Magazine.

Photos: Shannon Ahlstrand

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