By Dr. LE Hartmann-Ting
Nightingale competes at many tournaments—local, regional, and national—and each one is different from the rest. Friday nights at Regis make us feel like we are part of an exclusive intellectual club. The international food festival put on by the parents of the Bronx High School of Science team at their invitational reminds us of how diverse this city is, and that passion for an activity unites. Then there is Harvard—crush the weak. (Though this year it was more like “play in snow!”) Among these tournaments, the State Championship has always been unique. Downstate debate is the national circuit writ small, whereas upstate debate has distinct regional differences in style and practice. Having to adapt to two styles of debate (and judging) in one tournament makes it especially challenging.
But we are getting pretty good at it! This year Nightingale qualified seven teams for the State Championships held at SUNY Oneonta from April 24 to April 26. The topic under consideration was “Resolved: Committing United States ground troops to fight ISIS is in the best interest of the United States.”
Simply making it to States is a big deal—students need to reach final rounds at at least two tournaments to earn qualifications. But two of our teams distinguished themselves even further at the tournament: juniors Annie Abruzzo and Megan Yang (our newly-elected co-captains for 2015–2016 and the 2013 state champions in the novice division) cleared the preliminary rounds of competition and won their double octofinal round, ultimately placing 10th out of 65 teams overall in junior varsity public forum debate, and sophomores Katherine Ottenbreit and Lucy Ritzmann advanced to the finals!
Debate is a unique team sport. As you might know, in public forum debate, students compete in teams of two. Together they walk into a room, flip a coin to determine which side of the resolution they will advocate, and advance and attack lines of argumentation. A strong partnership requires trust, respect, hard work, and—in the best teams—the ability to anticipate your partner’s train of thought. At the same time the debate world rewards this kind of intellectual intimacy, it also demands that whole squads work together to brainstorm and research the range of topics a resolution may engender; two students could not do this alone.
So when quarterfinals were announced and sophomores Katherine Ottenbreit and Lucy Ritzmann were still standing, our entire team found an empty classroom and quickly started working together, sharing evidence and talking through arguments. By semifinals, our team was the only non-Regis team still in the competition. I emailed with Ms. Longley, Mr. Burke, and Dr. Zaccara: “Still in, cheer from the sidelines!” I crossed my fingers and bought another cup of coffee.
When Katherine and Lucy won their semifinal round, the energy from our team was electric. They let out a spontaneous cheer so authentic and joyful I felt bad shushing them and saying “play it cool.” “Don’t let other teams think we are surprised to be in finals!” I hustled them into a classroom and then, when the door was closed, we screamed!!!!!
As the round got ready to start, with only Nightingale in the way of a clean sweep of all debate divisions by Regis, Eric DiMichele, the head of Regis forensics and president of the New York State Forensics League, gave me a bear hug and said he was so glad it was Nightingale they were competing against. It is not an exaggeration to say that without Regis’s help, Nightingale might not have much of a program. When we started, Regis shared their expertise and their buses. To have developed a friendly rivalry with such an outstanding program is, in my mind, a mark of our success.
Although Katherine and Lucy dropped their final round in a 2-1 decision for Regis, they felt the decision was fair and realize how significant it is that they were second of 65 teams. We should have carried them off on our shoulders or thrown them in the river—that’s how impressive their record was.
Even more remarkable, however, was the recognition earned by all seven of our teams as winners of the fifth place overall sweepstakes trophy in public forum debate. To be honest, I usually don’t listen too hard when they announce this award because small programs rarely accumulate enough points to be competitive against larger schools. This award confirms that our program has depth, and I hope that all of our debaters who worked so hard all year will give themselves the credit they deserve.
Every member of the Nightingale team deserves thanks and congratulations. Whether they competed once or missed qualifying by only a hair, every girl’s participation makes our program strong. We owe thanks also to the athletic department, Ms. Di Toro, and the track team especially, for working so hard to accommodate our athlete debaters, as well as Ms. Coudert and Ms. Davis, who were gracious as always. Kathleen Kernell and Christina Chuliver kindly acted as judges and chaperones. I don’t know what we would do without them. Lastly, very big thanks for Susie Heller '69 who makes all our transportation arrangements and was able to get us our favorite bus driver!
It’s been a great year and we cannot wait for next season.
Dr. LE Hartmann-Ting is a member of Nightingale's history faculty and coaches the Upper School debate team.