Lincoln Academy seniors Riley Stevenson and Scott Petersen lead the LA debate team–and the state of Maine–in the 2020-21 high school debate season.

In the 2020-21 season, Maine high school debate tournaments are entirely virtual in order to avoid large gatherings. This year’s debate season began in late November, and despite the fact that LA has a small team this year, in their first two debates LA competitors have scored very well, placing three individuals in the top three.

Debate tournaments are typically all-day gatherings on Saturdays at high schools around the state. In a normal year debaters face their opponents in their chosen debate format, (including Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Congressional Debate, and Extemporaneous Speech), observed by a judge who scores each performance. Participants follow a bracket structure, with competitors progressing from debate to debate until overall winners are decided at the end of the day.

This year, debate brackets are assigned virtually, and participants and judges join virtual meetings and conduct their debate online. Like in past years, judges are present in the virtual “room” and assign scores to each participant. Winners go on to the next level until a high scorer is determined.

In Lincoln Academy’s first tournament of the season, “Forensicsgiving” on November 21, senior Riley Stevenson placed first in Varsity Lincoln-Douglas debate, and sophomore Margaret Kastelein placed third in Extemporaneous Speaking. In the December 5th “Digital Nutcracker” tournament, senior Scott Petersen placed second in Varsity Lincoln-Douglas debate.

Kastelein’s third place finish is notable because she switched from Congressional Debate to Extemporaneous Speech this year, and this was her first competition in the new platform. “Extemporaneous speaking is a form of debate in which you are given a list of topics to research throughout the week and then at the tournament you pick a question based on those topics,” she explained. “Then you are allotted 30 minutes to write and rehearse a speech answering that question, and afterwards you present the speech to a judge. There are four rounds, each of which you write on a different question. I hadn’t done extemp. previous to this virtual meet, so that in itself made it difficult, but I thought that overall the tournament ran smoothly, except for some technical difficulties in the beginning.”

Riley Stevenson debate champ 2020 portrait

Riley Stevenson ’21 was the 2020 Maine State Champion in Lincoln Douglas Debate, and started this year’s season with a first-place finish at her first debate.

“Online debate is definitely odd, but the rounds themselves definitely do not feel as weird as I expected,” said Stevenson. “The format for Lincoln Douglas debate has stayed largely the same, with two debaters and a judge in a virtual meeting. What I love most about debate is the debating itself, and even in a virtual setting that sense of competition has not suffered. The adults in the Maine debate circuit are also working incredibly hard to make sure things run smoothly, which is definitely paying off!”

Scott Petersen said, “I miss the team travel experience and meeting up with old friends at debate meets, but for the most part, everything else remains the same. I’m proud that our team is continuing to do their best despite the circumstances, and I hope that more students will be able to compete in the near future.”

These early season results are “particularly impressive since, as a virtual tournament, there were many more competitors than usual,” said LA social studies teacher and debate coach Kathleen Halm. “There was no travel requirement, so the field of competitors was much broader, and even included schools from Canada.”

Stevenson added, “I have to say, it’s very nice to be able to walk my dogs in between rounds–it’s a great stress-reliever.”