I joined the SLA staff in August of 2008. One of the first things that Chris Lehmann asked me to do, in addition to my teaching job, was coach the debate team. Now, I had been a coach. I coached volleyball, basketball and even two seasons of wrestling (that is a whole ‘nother blog post) for the previous 15 years. My first team was a group of 6th grade girls at a Catholic school near my college. They were awesome. I was hooked and coached ever since.

When I arrived at SLA there were no coaching jobs left open… or so I thought! I knew nothing about debate except for the informal bickering I’ve engaged in with everyone I’ve ever met. That first year was a challenge. The students were young, the league in Philadelphia was new and we were certainly in a building year. The 2009-2010 school year started to see some building momentum and by the end of the year we were competing at the top of the league in the city.

We were good, but if we were going to get better we needed a more consistent and solid meeting time to research and build cases. I went to Lehmann at the end of the school year and proposed a Debate class. In my mind, if we were going to raise the level of competition the very busy student athletes balancing the academic rigor of debate along with the demands of their normal SLA classes and jobs. We needed time; Lehmann agreed.

Two consistent hours a week for the first semester had an unbelievably positive impact on the performance of the debate team. At the Penn Youth For Debate tournament in early December, we brought a crushingly large team – 9 Debate partnerships went to work for the day debating the December Cyberbullying topic. When the day was over we won 1st – Andre Serrano and Chris Cassise, 3rd – Domnique Miller and Rumman Haq, 5th – Dennis Mawson and Kabbour Riqz and 6th places – Elisa Hyder and Mike Dea. One of SLA’s newest debaters, Elisa Hyder, won the award for best speaker overall. No other team came anywhere near placing two teams at the top. I could not have been more proud. Or so I thought.

Our winning ways continued with the conclusion of the Philadelphia City League last week. The Serrano/Cassise team (undefeated in 8 weeks of competition) and the Miller/Haq team placed 1st and 3rd again, Andre was one of the top overall speakers and SLA was the top team in the city. Our four top debaters will be getting out of school one day next semester to shadow an Assistant District Attorney and will be honored by the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (the Philly version of a school board) on January 12th.

Debate is tough and awesome and frustrating and exhilarating. The 22 debaters that competed on behalf of SLA this past semester performed impressively. I am humbled to get to work with such a dynamic, fun-loving and tenacious bunch. Here’s hoping the second semester holds as much fun as the first. Well done, team – well done.