Glenbrook North debate team member earns national title

  • Jack Barber, an incoming senior at Glenbrook North High School, has earned a national debate title -- the school's first since 2015.

    Jack Barber, an incoming senior at Glenbrook North High School, has earned a national debate title -- the school's first since 2015. Courtesy of Jack Barber

  • Derrik Chen, left, and Jack Barber, pictured during their freshman year at Glenbrook North after winning the Illinois Debate Coaches Association title for Novice Policy, have long been a strong team.

    Derrik Chen, left, and Jack Barber, pictured during their freshman year at Glenbrook North after winning the Illinois Debate Coaches Association title for Novice Policy, have long been a strong team. Courtesy of Jack Barber

 
 
Updated 6/24/2020 9:07 AM

The cream always rises, they say, and it's true in high school debate.

Not once over the truncated 2019-20 school year did Glenbrook North's Jack Barber earn a top speaker award -- until he did at the largest stage, taking the first-place speaker award in Policy Debate at the National Speech and Debate Association National Championship, June 15-17.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Besting 384 debaters representing 192 teams spanning the nation plus international entries, the incoming senior became the Spartans' first national top speaker since Ryan Spector in 2015, debate coach Dr. Michael Greenstein said.

On the state level, the Glenbrook North debate program owns two Illinois High School Association team titles with 29 individual champions.

"We have a really successful program and a long history. I'm excited to be a part of it, part of the history," said Barber, who missed fewer than seven points out of a possible 300 awarded by judges."

Greenstein called the victory "a really big deal."

"For Jack to win it is really something special that he can take with him forever," Greenstein said, "and for him to do it as a junior is even more special because that would be even more rare."

In the wake of COVID-19 regulations that scrapped the past two months of tournaments, including Illinois' state high school tournament, Greenstein praised the Debate Association's willingness to serve as a "guinea pig" to provide a viable national tournament virtually rather than in the planned site of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Ironically, the lapse in regular competitions provided time for Barber and his debate partner, junior Derrik Chen, to redouble their research efforts into the topic assigned to policy debaters at the outset of the school year: Should the federal government continue arms sales.

The teams must provide positive and negative arguments to any number of scenarios presented to them around that question.

"I was interested in it, so it was easy to spend hours in front of my computer reading about it," said Barber, who won a scholarship in addition to a large trophy that will be sent to him.

It's not anyone, though, who can take a mountain of facts and turn them into a compelling argument.

Greenstein said the successful debater holds judges' attention with charisma and strong oratory, thinks on his or her feet, provides compelling evidence and is persuasive in the ability to "package your argument" in terms that even a biased listener can accept.

"Both Jack and Derrick put forth the best versions of themselves," Greenstein said.

Although judges didn't always identify them as the winner of an argument, the packaging part won out.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It was largely more about sounding good than winning those arguments, though obviously we did try to do both," Barber said.

Considering attending college at Northwestern due to many family members having studied there, Barber hasn't ruled out applying to Michigan, Georgetown, Vanderbilt or Emory University in Atlanta.

A National Honor Society student, Barber also has played baseball since the tee-ball days. Currently, he's an outfielder and right-handed pitcher for the Homestead Ranchers travel team based in Glenview. Due to IHSA spring sports cancellation, he last played for Glenbrook North on the sophomore level.

"Most people spend a lot of time on either a sport or something like debate or academic activities," said Barber, who credited Chen, other debate teammates and friends who helped him prepare, and the Glenbrook North administration for supporting an activity that offers out-of-state travel to big debate and speech events.

Achieving what Greenstein called Barber's "breakout moment" in debate, the student will simply keep on keeping on.

"I'm just going to keep working hard and try to do the best I can," Barber said.

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