The 2021 LA Debate Team placed second in the Maine State Debate Tournament. Pictured from left: freshman Eric Richmond, senior Scott Petersen, junior Grace Houghton, senior Riley Stevenson, Coach Kathleen Halm. Not pictured: sophomore Maggie Kastelein.
For the second year in a row, Lincoln Academy’s Riley Stevenson is the Lincoln-Douglas Debate state champion. Senior Scott Petersen is the state runner-up in Lincoln-Douglas Debate. Sophomore Maggie Kastelein placed fourth in Extemporaneous Speech. The LA team, which was state champ in 2019 and state runner-up in 2020, is the team runner-up again this year. The team was awarded their virtual medals after the remote State Debate Tournament on Saturday, February 27.
“It is particularly impressive that we did so well with only four debaters participating,” said LA Debate Coach and social studies teacher Kathleen Halm. “We are small but we are mighty.”
“LA benefits from a super welcoming and supportive team environment,” said Stevenson. “On other teams there tends to be more inter-team competition and lack of sharing resources. We have always been totally the opposite, and willing to mock debate each other, share resources, and support each other, even though we do compete against each other a fair bit.”
This year, as also happened in the JV Lincoln-Douglas state finals in 2019, teammates Stevenson and Petersen ended up debating each other for the State Championship.
Online Lincoln-Douglas debate involves two people in a digital meeting with a single judge. For the final round, Stevenson and Petersen were in the virtual room with three judges, who awarded the win to Stevenson. “Because our team is so supportive it doesn’t feel stressful that we had to debate each other, because we both knew we would be genuinely happy for the other person no matter the outcome,” said Stevenson. “That attitude is definitely unique to our team, and has helped us not only succeed but also have fun doing it.”
The online platform for debate has pros and cons, according to Stevenson. “The biggest pro of online debate this year was having more time to prepare without having to get up early. It was nice to have pretty relaxed mornings before rounds, and I loved being home in between rounds to go outside or just hang out. It definitely felt like I got some portion of my Saturdays back!”
“The cons were plenty, as well,” Stevenson continued. “It was a bummer not to get to be in person and experience the excitement of a debate day, or see other competitors. I feel like we lost a lot of team camaraderie (which we remedied with a very fun group chat), and the chance to meet competitors from other schools. Especially as a senior, it was sad not to be able to catch up with kids from other schools and hear about their plans next year, and finish our debating careers in the same place. There’s something about the nervous energy of a debate day cafeteria I just love (can you tell how much I miss it?). So yeah, certainly not the year we imagined, but the fact that we could debate all made it totally worthwhile.”
Petersen and Stevenson agree that learning to excel in debate has ripples in other aspects of their life and education. “My lesson from debate over the years has really been about organization,” said Petersen, who was recently selected to participate in the United States Senate Youth Program. “When delivering speeches or information, being remembered by your audience and presenting something that will really stick in people’s head is crucial. The sport requires information and quick thinking, but just like life, it’s all about presentation.”
“Debate has taught me a ton,” said Stevenson. “Not only am I a better citizen of the world because of debate, my research and writing skills are vastly improved. I often hear from English teachers that my essays are well-organized, which I attribute to the formulaic aspect of writing debate cases. I also find it way easier in this highly-politicized time in our country to have real, respectful debates with people with differing views, because of the experience of having to see both sides of important issues and talk about them in a non-emotional setting. I hope to pursue debate in college, but I know that the experience of high school debate has helped me immensely in high school and will continue to do so in college and beyond.”
“LA’s debate success comes down to a sense of community and support,” said Petersen. “Our wonderful coaches and teachers have fostered a love for history, politics, and discourse among the team members, which helps us stay motivated. The school and local community have always been willing to help out too when we need it, which means the team is almost always able to focus on doing our very best.”
“This group of debaters are a real team,” said LA Debate Coach Kathleen Halm. “The experienced debaters give so generously of their experience and knowledge to the novices. And they have a lot of knowledge to share!”
“Being coach of the Debate Team the last two years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, not because of their brilliance and skill, which is undeniable, but because of their generosity, humor, breadth of vision, kindness, care for one another, and team spirit,” continued Halm, who is in her second year coaching the team. “They embraced me, a newbie, with such warmth, and have shown me in a million ways what the world of debate is all about. They have uplifted my spirit.”