High School Debate Championship

At noon on Friday, March 8th, we went to the City Club to attend the annual High School debate championship which it has hosted for over 20 years. This year, however, marked the first time that the two debators who squared off with each other were two young women, which was only appropriate since March 8th is International Women’s Day.

These two gifted young people were Miss Allison Sewell of Hawken School and Miss Tia Spence of Kenston High School, both of whom had earned the reputation as being champion debators and the resolution put before them was, “the illegal use of drugs ought to be treated as a matter of public health, not criminal justice.”

Before the debate began, we spoke to Mr. Mike Farrell, Partner at Baker Hostetler, which sponsored this program. Mr. Farrell very kindly emailed us a copy of his introduction which read in part:

“Today’s debate represents the final round of the North Coast District of the National Speech and Debate Association…The two young women debating this afternoon will engage in the style of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, which emphasizes logic, ethical values and philosophy…On behalf of BakerHostetler, we are honored to to support this annual tradition in memory of Patrick Jordan, a partner at the firm and an outstanding high school debater himself…I knew and worked with Pat and sponsoring this event is an excellent way of remembering him.”

Mr. Farrell then turned the program over to Miss Kayla Arenschield of Solon High School who introduced the resolution and explained the debate format. In the course of her remarks, she acknowledged that she had debated both Miss Sewell and Miss Spence and very much respected their abilities.

Let it be noted that acting as the commentator for the proceedings was Mr. Nick Castele of ideastream which will be broadcasting the debate on Sunday, March 10th at 10am. Joining Mr. Castele was Miss Kennedy Hughes, a senior at Vermilion High School senior who is also a noted debater. Under the querying of Mr. Castele, Ms. Hughes provided us with who provided us with information regarding the Lincoln-Douglas format, how the winner will be determined by the judges, what it is like for a debater in terms of having to be prepared to argue both sides of the issue, and the commitment necessary to be a successful debater.

Along these lines, we shared a table with a mother and father of a young woman was also an avid debater. The father told us that engaging in debate was “more critical to my daughter’s development as a writer, speaker, and student than anything that she’s been associated with as a student.”

Needless to say, the experience of listening to Miss Sewell (arguing pro) and Miss Spence (arguing against) was both compelling and educational because they both presented contentions that really caused us to question our own beliefs on the matter of illegal drug policy; throughout the debate our views were comparable to a pendulum swinging back and forth.

In the end, the judges declared Miss Spence to be the winner. Mr. Dan Moulthrop, City Club President & CEO, that just after the debate he asked a key legal figure in Cleveland which one of the young women he would be most apt to hire, based on what he had just witnessed, and he replied, “both of them!”

Even though Ms. Sewell and Ms. Spence represented different high schools, they were both in the same 5th grade classroom and their teacher, Ms. Bonnie Bernstein was there with us at the City Club on this day. Ms. Bernstein came forward and said that on the wall of her classroom was a poster that read, “Fly High and Dive Deep” which both young women had certainly done; in fact, Ms. Bernstein said that watching them was “absolutely thrilling!”