On a snowy December weekend, The Chicago Debate League returned to DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus for the seventh time in the past nine years for the Mid-Season Classic. The event combined the “A” and “AA” Conferences for two days of competition and camaraderie to close the record-setting first semester on a high note — in terms of student involvement and interest, the CDL completed the largest first semester in its history.
Over 220 students from 32 schools throughout the city competed in the academic environment of DePaul’s classrooms, befitting the intellectual rigor of the debates. Combined with the students who competed at the LCC and RCC tournaments at Thomas Kelly High School, the overall number of CDL students who participated in December T3 tournaments grew by 12 percent compared to last year.
Student Dhara Mehta of Mather High School, the top varsity speaker, reflected on her enthusiasm for the tournament. “Debating at DePaul was truly an exhilarating experience for me personally. The opportunity to be on campus and to feel collegiate life was a thrill.” Zuleima Nolasco, a varsity debater at Hubbard High School, added, “It was wonderful to compete at a prestigious campus, the competition was strong, and we learned a lot.”
Hyde Park Academy “closed out” the Varsity division, with their top teams winning both first and second place. Evanston Township defeated Marshall Metro for the top honors in Junior Varsity.
T’Keya Johnson, a senior at School of the Arts – South Shore, offers perhaps the best description of the intense challenge of the inter-Conference Mid-Season Classic. “The experiences I had at DePaul were both demanding and highly enjoyable. The campus was fairly big and beautiful. It made me feel more … elite, for lack of better words, especially since I only had the chance to debate at DePaul once before during my sophomore year. The rounds were exciting and intense. The Midseason Classic really tested all my skills as a debater from thinking on my feet and being able to carry arguments with clarity and proficiency and speaking clearly with my own knowledge of the status quo and current information. It really was the best time I have ever had! Debating means more to me than any other activity I do and I am honored to debate teams who commit to it as I do.”
One of the top Varsity debaters in the league, Raygene Brice from Marshall Metro High School, saw the Mid-Season Classic as a unique opportunity to showcase her skills: “I debated my absolute hardest with passion and a sense of maturity that I was looking for my whole debate career. Being at an institution like DePaul made me bring my ‘A’ game. Because of that, I placed 4th Varsity Speaker and my team was a quarter-finalist in the tournament. It was a fun tournament overall. The food was banging and we had actual guides to show us around so we wouldn’t get lost. I hope I get to have the same experience next year for my senior year.”
Coaches also shared in the positive reviews. Shariba Rivers, Instructional Coach at the University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn Campus noted, “It is heartening to see the students’ growth not only in their debating skills but also in their personal, social interactions with students from other schools in the League. The students have not lost any of their energy, and I think that keeps the coaches energized, too.”
Vernessa Gipson of the Champaign Ford Regional Office of Education and coach of the CDL guest school from Champaign, said, “We drive 3 hours from Central Illinois for our debaters to participate and ‘win or lose,’ their experiences have ALWAYS been positive and energizing. They love being on the college campus and look forward to peer camaraderie with fellow debaters – a sea of over 200 academic scholars – from all across the Chicagoland area.”
Lamont Holifield, a Mathematics teacher at CICS Ellison School, talked about the educational community of professional coaches, judges, and students. “The judges provided my students with valuable feedback which they are incorporating into their repertoire of skills. In addition, my students gleaned lots of strategies from other more experienced debaters from the other CDL schools. I benefited from the interaction with other coaches in the League. Words cannot do justice to what this experience has meant to not only our students, but to the Ellison community as a whole.”
Teacher Stacey Dixon sums up this historic weekend with evidence of the most direct impact of all: “It was perfect for teenagers from Rauner College Prep, who experienced excitement and buzz as we walked on the Campus of DePaul University for Tournament Three. Though the campus seemed a bit overwhelming at first to the students, it soon became a cozy and welcoming setting for the intellectual stimulation that was about to take place. The students’ anxiety soon gave way to exhilaration as they stepped into the college classrooms to engage their peers in what turned out to be some of their most challenging debates. The feedback was very constructive. As we returned to Rauner on Saturday night, you could feel the weight of accomplishment, motivation, and spirit that we were taking back with us from the experience. Thanks to DePaul University, the CDC and all who contributed to not only a well-coordinated tournament, but an exciting one as well.”
Our gracious host for the weekend, Beth Zoufal, who is a Communications Instructor and the Debate Coach at DePaul, noted: “It is a privilege to work with the Chicago Debate League. Debate is an activity that gives students a set of skills that will empower them for life. Without the league, many of these students would never get a chance to develop these skills. I am grateful for the opportunity to give back to the activity that has benefited me so much. The students showed real commitment to debate. They were also wonderful guests, it is hard to imagine a more respectful group of high school students.”