When students have opportunities to speak in public at a young age, they gain confidence and skills that will serve them throughout their lives.
Debate is an essential element of an educated, productive, and ethical community. It fosters critical thinking and communication skills for the 21st century while providing students with the forum to nurture their sense of advocacy. While debate intentionally appears across the curriculum, it's our competitive team now led by celebrated coach Mike Shackelford that distinguishes Rowland Hall as the strongest debate program in the Intermountain West. In 2010, the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) recognized Rowland Hall as a Debate School of Excellence, and we're consistently ranked in the top 10% of schools nationwide for member degrees.
- 2017-2018 NSDA State Educator of the Year for Utah
- 2016 National District Chair of the Year for his leadership in the NSDA
- 2014 Utah Debate Coaches Association Policy Debate Coach of the Year
- Debaters who excel get to call Mr. Shackelford "Mikee"
Speech and debate is an essential part of the Middle School. Required in the sixth grade as part of the foundations curriculum, students develop strong communication, argumentation, and advocacy skills. Middle schoolers have additional elective options to explore debate in the seventh and eighth grades in competitive and non-competitive environments. Students who officially join the team will have four to five tournament opportunities in the third trimester. Rowland Hall consistently earns awards throughout the season.
The Upper School team is made up of approximately 50 debaters who participate in a variety of events (Policy, Public Forum, or Lincoln-Douglas) and divisions (Varsity or Novice). Students determine their own commitment level and goals. Our most competitive students attend 10 to 12 tournaments a year and may travel all over the country. Others stay committed to regional or local performances, but everyone is committed to personal excellence. In just the last five years, the program has produced seven State Champions, 19 National Qualifiers, and 14 Academic All-Americans, and sent dozens of students to college on scholarships.
1985: Rowland Hall debate team wins 1A state championship title.
1986: For the second year in a row, the team takes the 1A state title.
1987: Rowland Hall becomes an official member of the National Forensic League, now named the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA). Nine students are on the team.
1988: Students qualify to the National Speech and Debate Tournament for the first time. Coaches: Carl Sturges and Frank Langheinrich.
1989: Deseret News reports Rowland Hall ties for first place in the Abe Lincoln Invitational Debate Tournament, competing against much larger schools under a special 1A classification. Libero Della Piana ’89 wins trophies in three different events. Team captains: Matt Rogers ’90, Liz Abaunza ’89, Sutton Snook ’90, Sarah Culp ’89, and Jenni Langheinrich ’89.
1995: Rowland Hall wins its first District Debate Sweeps Award, given to the top school in the Great Salt Lake District.
1997: Student sets record for most career NSDA points in the Great Salt Lake District (Neeta Bidwai ’97, coached by Frank Langheinrich).
1999: Ryan Hoglund (now our director of ethical education) begins coaching the team.
2001: Rowland Hall qualifies to the Tournament of Champions (TOC) for the first time (Elisabeth Page ’01).
2004: Students make it to elimination rounds for the first time at the National Speech and Debate Tournament (Claire Anderson ’04 and Karla Penman ’04).
2007: At the TOC in spring, two students make it to the elimination rounds for the first time (Chase Burton ’08 and Cyrus Akrami ’07). Mike Shackelford begins coaching the team in the fall.
2010: Students make it to the final round at the National Speech and Debate Tournament, finish as runners-up (Andrew Arsht ’10 and Mario Feola ’10).
2011: NSDA recognizes Rowland Hall as a National Debate School of Excellence. Middle School team wins its first State Championship.
2012: Alumnus wins College National Championship (Andrew Arsht ’10, Georgetown University).
2014: Middle School team wins its second State Championship. Debate coach Mike Shackelford wins Policy Debate Coach of the Year from the Utah Debate Coaches Association.
2015: Rowland Hall qualifies three teams to the TOC (Caitlin Walrath ’15 and Camila Reed-Guevara ’15; Claire Wang ’15 and Emily Gordon ’16; and Jaden Lessnick ’16 and Elliot Kovnick ’15). Two finish in the sweet 16. Students win the 3A Policy State Championship and the inaugural Utah Tournament of Excellence. Director of Ethical Education Ryan Hoglund, former debate coach, inducted into Utah Debate Coaches Hall of Fame.
2016: Rowland Hall gathers the most TOC bids in the country, finishes second at the National Debate Coaches Association National Championships, and wins a variety of elite local and national tournaments during the regular season. Seven students qualify to the National Speech and Debate Tournament. The team continues its streak of five straight District Debate Sweeps Awards. Debate coach Mike Shackelford wins National District Chair of the Year for his leadership in the NSDA. There are 50 students on the Upper School team and another 12 in Middle School.
2017: NSDA names debate coach Mike Shackelford the 2017-2018 State Educator of the Year for Utah. Read our news story.
A national orientation inspires us to work harder to defeat major debate schools across the country, and incentivizes a stronger feeling of community.—Caroline Nielsen ’12, Pomona College
Nothing forges lifelong memories like debate. The preparation, the struggles of competition, the travel, and the freedom to share your thoughts; they all contribute to a strong shared experience that results in lasting friendships.—Jordan Friedman ’10, University of Southern California
Debate was the most important class I took here. From the analytical reasoning, fast-paced thinking, and exposure to materials not presented in any core class, debate enriched my high school experience in more ways than I can even say.—Cyrus Akrami ’07, Dartmouth College
Debate immerses you in a competitive environment and exposes you to controversial topics. As a young adult, I think it's incredibly important to know about current events.—Anna Greenberg ’17, Brandeis University
Debate helped me develop a voice. I'm more confident in expressing my opinions and I know how to respectfully disagree with others and argue my thoughts.—Rustin Armknecht ’16, Lafayette College