For the sake of argument, student competitors addressed every hot topic imaginable at the annual District of Columbia Urban Debate League’s (DCUDL) Citywide Championship held at McKinley Tech High School on May 15. Twelve diverse high school teams from across the Washington metropolitan area drew a crowd of nearly 200 spectators anxious to witness the debating skills of students focused and committed to be the best at nailing their opponents to the wall with calculated arguments and intellect.
Should juveniles receive life sentences? Will the current health care legislation further damage a battered economy? Do full body scanners constitute an invasion of privacy? These were just a few of the questions that impassioned teammates debated during the day-long event.
McKinley’s spirited young contenders got the competition off to a rousing start as they chanted and cheered to a call-and-response round of “Whose house? Our house!” And when the dust finally settled, McKinley had successfully defended the city championship title against strong competition from Cesar Chavez School of Public Policy, second place, and School Without Walls, third place.
McKinley was anchored by the stellar teams of: Ikechukwu Umez-Eronini/ Marian Koroma/ Naseechah Savannah (4 – 0); Kendra Pridgen/James Privette/Cierra Mayo (3 – 1); Tori Dugger/Christopher Holness/Ebony Gibbs (3 – 1); Jessy Beach/Trisha Ibeh/Timothy Brown (2 – 2 ); Adrian Johnson/Edward Brooks/Lonnell Butler (2 – 2); Henry Manning/Maurice Rucker/Alexis Paige-Glenn (2 – 2); Vondrea Hughes/Elisa Jernigan/Ashley Allen (2 – 2); and Sarah Bellamy/Owen Blagrove/Kevin Jackson (1 – 3).
“It is the culmination of a year of hard work and growth,” said debate coach and McKinley Tech English teacher Mark Roberts, who has mentored the team for five years, since the high school – located at Second and T streets, N.E. – reopened. “This group came to me fresh in September and to see their progression ‘til now is what teaching is about.”
Roberts says he has witnessed a steady trend toward more private and charter schools entering the mix. With eight teams, McKinley currently boasts the largest group in the city.
Aspiring lawyer, senior, Timothy Brown, said he is motivated to become a great debater because debating has helped him overcome stuttering. He proudly remembers an experience during one debate when a judge compared his diction and tone to the great orations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
A seasoned debater, college-bound McKinley senior Trisha Ibeh was determined to exit as a champion. “This is my last high school debate and it’s very important that my team ends up on top,” she explained. “We want to be politicians, we want to be lawyers…this will actually affect our lives so it is very important to us.”
Following a judges preliminary review of the ground rules, debater Candice Jones of Woodstream Christian Academy, of Mitchellville, Md., spoke in the first round to argue in favor of the January 5-4 Supreme Court ruling which rejected limits on corporate spending in political campaigns. Countering with an energetic rebuttal, McKinley’s Marian Koroma argued in the opposing voice, saying that limits on corporate spending was not a violation of free speech. Other young debaters followed with pros and cons.
McKinley senior and debater Ikechukwu Umez-Eronini is headed for George Washington University in the fall. He says that the debate experience definitely gave a boost to his resume. “It was talked about extensively in the college interview process,” he said.
Umez-Eronini remembers his greatest moment saying, “I felt like, ‘Wow. I’ve actually accomplished something…. I’ve gone from being a Kobe to being a Michael Jordan. Not only was I winning but the team was winning as well,’” he said.
Arthur Mcunu, a 15-year-old at Woodstream explained, “My father grew up during apartheid in South Africa yet he was a debater and he excelled. Debating shows that as African Americans, we can put down the ball and pick up a book and actually be scholars.”
Fourteen-year-old Sierra Boyd agreed. Boyd says that she would like to see more African- American students get involved because “it gets us more informed about the world.”
The McKinley Classes of 1975 and 1974 worked with their alma mater to adopt and co-sponsor this year’s championship debate team.