Lincoln Academy Debate team members Scott Petersen, Erin Dworkin, coach Kathleen Halm, Riley Stevenson, and Grace Canny. All four students qualified for national debate events that will take place in the summer of 2020.

Four Lincoln Academy students qualified for 2020 national debate championship events during a qualifying tournament at Poland Regional High School on February 15. Junior Scott Petersen qualified for the National Catholic Forensic League (NCFL) Grand Nationals in Chicago in May, and junior Riley Stevenson, senior Grace Canny, and senior Erin Dworkin qualified for the World Schools Debate team, which competes in Albuquerque, New Mexico in June. First year LA debate Coach Kathleen Halm was also honored as the Maine National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) New Coach of the Year at the tournament awards ceremony.

This is not the first national debate event for Grace Canny, Erin Dworkin, and Riley Stevenson, who competed in the 2019 World Schools competition in Dallas, Texas. Since there is no World Schools debate competition in Maine, this five-on-five format was a new skill for the Maine debaters. “Getting to work in teams of five provided its own challenges,” said Stevenson. “Although we were not the most competitive team, the opportunity to debate on a larger scale is exciting no matter the topic or debate style. I am looking forward to improving my skills in this style of debate and traveling to a new part of the country!”

Grace Canny described last year’s World Schools competition as one of the highlights of her summer. “The national competition was a learning experience for me in two ways. First, I felt the same way an athlete or musician from a small town would feel at a national competition: far out of my league. We would go against debaters from California, Texas, and Massachusetts, where the level of competition is just higher. I learned what it took to be nationally competitive in any activity. Second, because I was debating students far better than me, I learned some new ways to be more persuasive and picked up on subtleties that might help you win a round. What excites me most about attending these national competitions is getting to do something I love in a new and interesting place.”

At the NCFL Grand Nationals in Chicago debaters will compete in Lincoln-Douglas one-on-one debate. Scott Petersen is experienced in Lincoln-Douglas debate, but the Chicago event will present both a new debate topic (which will be unveiled later this spring) and a new level of competition for the LA junior.

“This is my first time qualifying for a national competition, and I’m extremely excited and honored to compete along with some of the best and brightest debaters in the country,” said Petersen. “I look forward to improvement in terms of debate, but also in terms of personal growth and exploration. I couldn’t have gotten here without consistent support from family and friends, and I’m truly thrilled to be able to take part in such an exciting opportunity.”

LA Social Studies teacher Kathleen Halm took over the LA Debate Team on the heels of their 2019 State Championship, and coached them to an individual State Championship–for Stevenson in Lincoln-Douglas Debate–and a team second place state finish this year. She describes her time coaching as a “steep learning curve, but a happy one.

“The challenges of coaching the Debate Team this year included not only taking on a competitive team, but also learning about how the debate world functioned from the ground up. The rewards have been incalculable; the students on the team are not only first-rate debaters, but also generous, thoughtful, helpful (and hilarious!) human beings. Their teamwork and willingness to jump in and do whatever was needed, including showing me the ropes, have been extraordinary. They are amazing, bright, committed young people, and becoming debate coach is honestly one of the most thrilling and rewarding things I have done in years. I have learned so much and have lots of plans for next year.”