Glenbrook North students win state debate title
It's nothing new, but it's always special.
Glenbrook North winning a state debate title.
Seniors Sohan Bellam and Joanna Gusis won the Spartans' 18th state title in Policy Debate at the Illinois High School Association State Debate Championships at Illinois State University March 18-19.
Glenbrook North's first championship victory since 2016 came in a 4-1 judges' decision in the final round over Chicago's Walter Payton College Prep. Over two days -- five preliminary rounds and three single-elimination rounds -- the Glenbrook North duo won 19 of 21 debates, 10 of 11 in the final three rounds.
"For me, it's just rewarding given that we've spent four years of high school sort of preparing for this tournament, ultimately to do well at this tournament our senior year," said Bellam, headed to Emory University to study environmental science and international relations.
"Not only was it rewarding for us, but it also, I think, speaks very well of the team. Debate is very much an activity that depends on many, many more people than just Sohan and myself," said Gusis, recently awarded a full scholarship from Michigan State due to her debate skills.
She'll study political theory and either statistics or qualitative analysis, with a goal of attending law school.
"I mean, GBN has a lot of coaches who help us out daily, practicing, doing research, etcetera. We have a lot of teammates, other seniors and juniors, as well as some of the underclassmen, who help us do research or think through arguments, etcetera. And so not only was it rewarding for myself, but also for the GBN team that helped beat them," she said.
Based on judges' ballots, both Bellam and Gusis earned all-state debate honors, fourth and fifth overall, respectively, in number of points tallied.
Last weekend, out of a field of 81 entries in Policy Debate, the duo reached the quarterfinals of the National Debate Coaches Association National Championships.
The area is steeped in debate tradition and expertise. New Trier has won 10 titles in Policy Debate, formerly called Cross-Exam. Glenbrook South owns six championships in the discipline, which dates to 1941 at the state level, according to IHSA records.
Glenbrook North and New Trier each have won five times in the Lincoln & Douglas Debate, and though the locals do not have a title in Congressional Debate, New Trier has four titles in Public Forum Debate.
In a national agenda set by the vote of a delegation of state representatives, Public Policy debate focuses on a single topic the entire year.
This year the topic was water policy, "particularly to protect water resources," Gusis said. Next year, it will be emerging technologies, said Michael Greenstein, a social studies teacher who is Glenbrook North's debate director.
In the final round against Payton's Cole Weese and David McDermott, Bellam and Gusis had to address the illegality of ships' water ballast containing organisms, like microbes.
Sometimes students need to defend the affirmative or negative position of a topic against their own opinion.
"That's just part of the game," Gusis said. "Think of it less like an ideological debate like you would see in politics or on the news and more of just a game, like you would soccer. Sometimes you get to run plays that aren't your favorite."
What made this title particularly special was it came after a pandemic that rendered competitions remote or, like the 2020 state finals, canceled.
"COVID affected this group the most, because they haven't done an in-person tournament for basically two and a half years," Greenstein said.
"The last time they got to do one was in the middle of their sophomore year, and the state tournament was the first in-person tournament that they had been to since that time."
And it was just like old times.
"I think this win is very rewarding not only personally but for the team. I think not only does it reflect the collaboration that happens as a team, but I also hope that it almost revitalizes GBN debate -- not that it needs the revitalization, as clearly our success at state demonstrates," Gusis said.
"But it's very cool to see the younger students, especially the freshmen, to have someone to look at and be like, it really is possible to reach that level."