Members of Lincoln Academy’s State Runners-Up Debate Team in the winter of 2020. From left: 2020 graduate Cameron Nelson, senior Scott Petersen, senior Riley Stevenson, coach Kathleen Halm, and sophomore Maggie Kastelein. The LA Debate Team was recently presented with the 2019-2020 Leading Chapter Award for the Maine District of the National Speech and Debate Association.

Lincoln Academy’s Debate Team has earned the 2019-2020 Leading Chapter Award for the Maine District of the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA). The award is given annually by the NSDA to recognize participation and excellence in debate. Of more than 3000 schools who are members of this organization nationwide, only 110 received this honor in 2020.

A letter to Debate Team coach Kathleen Halm and Head of School Jeffrey Burroughs reads, in part, “your students have been taught communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration skills through speech and debate. The Leading Chapter Award serves as an indication of your relentless dedication to these students …. Your efforts truly embody our mission to empower youth.”

Riley Stevenson ’21 is the 2020 Maine State Champion in Lincoln Douglas Debate

The award recognizes achievements from the last season, which wrapped up not long before the covid shutdown. Senior Riley Stevenson was the 2020 state champion in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, and credits this new award to the team’s resilience. “The LA debate team has proven to be a hardy and determined team. In 2019, after we won the state championship, we lost a great group of senior leaders and debaters, and our coach [former LA science teacher Matt Leland]. We worked hard during the 20-21 season to keep up with the momentum we had, which led to another successful season despite our senior losses. It’s pretty incredible that we were state runner-ups with so few debaters, and a new coach. Our seniors last year, and Ms. Halm, worked tirelessly to keep the team together, and it totally paid off.”

The 2020-21 Debate Team is continuing to practice despite the challenges of covid restrictions, with team members–including four new members–preparing their cases in Lincoln-Douglas and Public Forum debate and honing persuasive writing skills in Extemporaneous Speech. The competitive season kicks off on November 21st with fully virtual debates, which promise to be a “learning experience” for all involved, according to LA Debate coach Kathleen Halm.

“This year, our team will certainly look very different,” said Stevenson. “Tournaments are happening fully virtually, taking away the great fun of the 5am bus rides and the long slogs home after awards ceremonies. What will stay the same, however, is our commitment as a team to helping each other out, making sure underclassmen feel included, and our competitive spirit. Although it will be extremely different, I look forward to my senior year on this debate team all the same.”

Halm, who is in her second year coaching the LA debate team, says, “this award is a reminder of the excellence LA Debate has achieved in the last five years, including two team state championships and a second place finish and many individual honors. This season will look different with no in-person tournaments, but we will continue to build the skills that make debaters such incredible citizens of the world!”

“Lincoln Academy has built a tradition of excellence in speech and debate over the last decade,” said LA Head of School Jeffrey Burroughs. “This honor is another recognition of the hard work that Ms. Halm and the students consistently put into the team. We are very proud of their accomplishments.”

“Being on Lincoln’s debate team has changed my life,” said senior Scott Petersen, who was state runner up in Lincoln Douglas Debate in 2020 and qualified for Nationals. “I was always moderately interested in government and politics, but debate thrust me headfirst into an unfamiliar world which I’ve since learned how to navigate. It’s made me more confident in my speech, honed my understanding of the world, and showed me the most welcoming sides of both the local and state communities. As much as I’m proud that our team has won first and second place at the state competition in the last two years, debate is also about the support from teammates, our coach, Mrs. Halm, our parents, and the other teams that make it all possible, and that community has been wonderfully supportive and helpful.”