Lincoln Academy’s 2019 State Champion Debate Team

Thanks to a strong team effort at the Maine Speech and Debate State Championship Tournament on January 26, Lincoln Academy’s Debate team are the Maine State Champions for the second time in four years. The team, coached by LA science teacher Matt Leland won the State Championship for the first time in 2015.

Maine practices both Lincoln-Douglas Debate (based on debates held between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas leading up to the 1858 Senate election in Illinois) and Public Forum (a two-on-two debate style based on the CNN show Crossfire). In Lincoln-Douglas, there are three divisions based on experience level, while Public Forum has two. Individuals can earn points for their team by placing in each division at any level. Lincoln beat second-place Falmouth High School by just three points, 32-29. “If even one of the placers had fallen short,” said Leland, “we would not be State Champions today.”

According to Leland, 26 teams competed in this year’s State Finals with roughly 250 competitors. This field includes all schools with debate teams in Maine, since there are no class divisions in debate.

21 LA students competed on Saturday, and of those, six earned individual medals. Senior team captain Paige Camp led the charge for LA with a second-place finish in Varsity Lincoln-Douglas Debate. The JV squad, comprised of second-year debaters, dominated the field. Sophomore Riley Stevenson won the JV division, beating teammate Scott Petersen, who came in second, in the finals. Junior Quinn Straus secured fourth place honors. The duo of juniors Grace Canny and Erin Dworkin earned vital points for the team by taking fifth place in Varsity Public Forum.

Paige Camp attributes her debate success to being “a naturally argumentative person, and being determined.” She said, “in debate it helps to see a topic that you might logically agree with, and still be able to find the flaw in the argument. Knowing a lot about the topic helps as well.”

Sophomore Riley Stevenson added that through debate, “you learn about issues that you might not learn about otherwise, and you learn about them in a different way. In Lincoln-Douglas debate, rebuttals are judged more on values, not just factual arguments.” She explained that philosophical knowledge is critical to success. Of her teammate Stevenson said, “Paige has a real depth of knowledge in philosophy.”

The debate season is not over for Lincoln Academy. The team will go on to several national qualifying tournaments, and they have a good track record in these competitions. Last year Paige Camp qualified for and participated in two national tournaments.

“I’m so proud of all the hard work everyone on the team has put in,” said Leland. “The season has had ups and downs, but the students came together in the end.”

The LA Debate team is hoping to recruit new members next year, but they acknowledge that it can be a tough sell, at least at first. “It’s hard to ask kids to give up Saturdays and write extra essays that are not for school,” said Stevenson. “But it is so worth the time. Debate is the most life-changing thing I have ever done. The thrill of debating makes it all worth it.”