For this year’s debate team, there may be one thing that feels better than claiming Rowland Hall’s second consecutive region and state titles.
Doing it in person.
After two years of online-only competition, debaters from across the state were able to gather in person once again for the 2022 regional and state tournaments. After numerous Zoom-room competitions, said Mike Shackelford, Rowland Hall debate coach, these in-person gatherings were a welcome change.
"A return to in-person debate was rejuvenating,” said Mike. “Sure, it meant more planning and earlier mornings—but it also meant pep talks and motivational speeches, real-time collaboration, bonding and playing together between rounds, and supporting one another by watching final rounds as a group. It allowed our students to be truly seen and heard by their opponents, judges, and teammates." And it was especially exciting for the team members who hadn’t yet experienced in-person debate events. “They didn't even know what they were missing,” said Mike.
Sophomore Zac Bahna was one of these students. He experienced his first year of competition—where he placed third in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking at state—on Zoom, and now understands the contrast between the two settings.
We were able to foster an environment in which everyone was willing to help each other out and push each other to succeed.—Zac Bahna, class of 2024
“The in-person experience is a lot different but more fun,” said Zac, who, with fellow sophomore and partner Harris Matheson, took third place in this year’s Public Forum event. “You get to talk to debaters from other schools and hang out with your teammates between rounds. Although last year’s debate season was still a great experience, the team felt more isolated and disconnected when we were all debating from our own homes. The state tournament was one of the first times that I could really feel the good energy of a team environment.”
That energy makes a difference for Rowland Hall not only because the team plays up a division into the 3A classification, pitting them against larger schools, but also because they had to spend a lot of time preparing for individual speech events—an area they don't practice during the regular season—to be competitive.
“It was so awesome to see so many Rowland Hall debaters come together and push themselves to compete in different events than they normally would and work together to achieve a common goal,” said Zac. “We were able to foster an environment in which everyone was willing to help each other out and push each other to succeed.”
As a result, the team walked away from the state tournament with their second consecutive 3A state title (their total score, 108, was 33 points higher than the second-place team) and an impressive list of performances:
- Senior Samantha Lehman took first place in National Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a domestic affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
- Senior teammates Ella Houden and Kit Stevens took first place in Public Forum, an event that includes short speeches interspersed with three-minute crossfire sections, on the topic of the pros and cons of organic agriculture. Senior Samantha Lehman and junior Micah Sheinberg as well as sophomores Zac Bahna and Harris Matheson closed out the top three spots, giving them a co-championship.
- Junior Layla Hijjawi and sophomore Joey Lieskovan took first place in Policy, an event in which teams advocate for or against a policy change resolution, for their take on the best proposals for water resource protection. Juniors Ruchi Agarwal and Julia Summerfield also went undefeated in this event, giving them the co-championship, while senior George Drakos and sophomore Gabe Andrus, as well as sophomores Marina Peng and Logan Fang, tied for third place—a clean sweep of the top four spots! (Learn more about how debaters across the state, including Rowland Hall students, prepared for this topic in The Salt Lake Tribune.)
- Freshman Aiden Gandhi took fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas, a solo debate event, for his speech on journalistic ethics.
- Junior Zachary Klein took third place in Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking, an event in which debaters are given a foreign affairs question and have 30 minutes to research, write, and deliver seven-minute speeches.
- Freshman Andrew Murphy took fifth place in Student Congress, a competition in which students lead and participate in a simulation where they debate different pieces of national legislation.
- Junior Micah Sheinberg took fourth place in Impromptu Speaking, an event in which debaters are required to prepare and deliver speeches on a random topic, with only one to two minutes to prepare.
Samantha Lehman also made school history by being the first Rowland Hall student to win an individual state championship in three different debate events over her high school career. The senior said the accomplishment showed her that she can successfully debate on both national and state levels—and reminded her of what she’s learned over four years.
Debate has made me more confident in my voice.—Samantha Lehman, class of 2022
“Debate has made me a more confident person,” said Samantha. “I’ve always been willing to put myself out there, but debate has made me more confident in my voice, in my ability to convey ideas. I know how to speak to a specific audience, to use my research skills and cater arguments to different groups. I know how to speak efficiently and clearly, in a way that’s not pedantic. I know more about the world: criminal justice issues, arms sales, international relations, water, climate change—subjects you would never find out just in school and reading the news.”
This perspective was echoed by ninth grader Aiden Gandhi, who emerged as a team phenom in his novice season, taking fifth place in Lincoln-Douglas at his first state tournament.
“The season allowed me to grow and learn about topics and ideas that I never would have explored otherwise,” said Aiden. And though he is thrilled about the accomplishments of this year, he’s even more excited about his personal growth. “I think I am most proud of achieving the growth that I did this year in debate. It means that I will be better equipped for next year and future debates.”
It’s this kind of attitude, found across the team, that promises continued excellence for Rowland Hall Debate. Even after graduation, said Samantha, she’ll be keeping an eye on the team—she’s that excited about what lies ahead. Zac and Aiden, also looking forward to what's in the team’s future, have already promised to contribute to ongoing success by challenging themselves and their teammates, cultivating a positive and fun environment, and building community.
“I am excited for the opportunity that next year's season brings to connect, grow, and improve,” said Aiden.