Middle School Debate Tournament

Sister Cities  co-sponsors Middle School Debate

When Sister Cities of Louisville heard about Louisville's Middle School Debate League, it was a no-brainer to become part of it. The idea is to have students use the power of reasoning and debate instead of violence to settle issues -- and the Sister Cities mission of using citizen diplomacy to promote peace and end conflict falls right alongside this. As one of the sponsors of the debate, Sister Cities of Louisville will, in the near future, host an International debate between schools in the Louisville Middle School Student Debate League and schools in Leeds, England.   


The league began two years ago when Dr. Jeff Bile and Sylvia Bruton, both instructors at Spalding University, decided to initiate a pilot debate program targeting the middle schools, where few debate programs currently exist. The two succeeded in obtaining sponsorship by Spalding University's School of Communication and Sister Cities of Louisville in cooperation with Jefferson County Public Schools Department of Diversity, Equity and Poverty Programs. The first tournament held in 2010 debated the topic: "Resolved: Jefferson County Public Schools should require 75% or more of its students to attend single-sex schools." With the 2011 Championship Tournament, the league concluded the second year of its planned two-year pilot.  In February 2011, a practice tournament gave students a chance to practice their skills and test their ideas.

2011 CHAMPIONSHIP. . . and they're off!

It was a neck-and neck race and the winner . . . at  the wire, with a photo finish, Noe Middle School! 

The Louisville Middle School Student Debate League held its Second Annual Championship tournament Monday, May 2nd, 2011.  Participating schools included: Noe, Crosby, Westport and Nativity Academy of St. Boniface.  Participants gathered at 9:00 A.M. to hear Spalding University President Tori Murden-McClure welcome them.  Round one of the three-round tournament began at 9:15 A.M.; round three ended at 12:15 P.M.  Following the third round of debate, participants rushed back to the auditorium where a pizza lunch awaited them.

The awards ceremony began at about 12:30.  Two "Debater's Choice" awards were given for the outstanding advocates as chosen by their peers.  These awards went to Affirmative debater Taylor Fisher (Crosby Middle School) and Andi Dahmer (Noe Middle School) for the Negative. Noe Middle School, under the tutelage of student-teacher Laura Wicke, won the team championship by capturing 19 of 24 possible ballots.  Each student participant from the four schools received a medallion.  The debaters unanimously recorded that they "got smarter" and had fun.  "It was a great day for everyone!" said tournament coordinator Sylvia Bruton. "Bravo to our dedicated teachers and these young leaders of tomorrow."



Dr. Melissa Chastain, Chair of the School of Communication, introduced President McClure who spoke to the audience about how hard work and staying in school can bring great opportunities.  She mentioned that although she held degrees from two prestigious universities, Smith College and Harvard and was the first woman to row alone across the Atlantic; her most rewarding and life-changing experience had been at Spalding University where she earned a Masters of Fine Arts in Writing. 



Prosecutors should have the power to try those 13 and older as adults for violent crimes was the debate proposition. The debaters had the mission of defending the Affirmative (agree) or Negative (disagree) position and working as a team. This was not an easy topic.  It offered both challenges and opportunities for students to gain insights into a subject of interest to this age group.  It also encouraged the participants to reflect, research, outline arguments and map out strategies.


The champion Noe Middle School coach and student-teacher, Laura Wicke, expressed thanks to student-teacher and assistant coach Ms. Sara Wiley and Mrs. Carr (eighth grade Math teacher) for their generous support.  Mrs. Wicke commented: "Our Debate Team had a very enjoyable but competitive experience.  We started with an interest meeting and an introduction of the proposed resolution for the debate.  During our interest meeting, 40 students discussed and talked about the topic for the debate. Following the initial meeting, students prepared a two minute speech to audition for a spot on the debate team."  Ms. Wicke and Ms. Wiley judged each student and decided who would be a member of the debate club.  A total of 15 students made the cut for the Debate Club.  Each student was made aware that only 8 students could go to the tournament and that only 4 students would be picked to compete. 

Ms. Wicke explained: "After the 15 students were chosen, each student chose a side of the debate (affirmative or negative).  Together the students worked on forming opinions, discussing the topic, and gathering research.  We met twice a week after school until 4:00 for six weeks.  At each practice, the students evaluated and revised their speeches and evidence.  Also, we watched several videos of debate via the internet.  We were fortunate to have two students from Manual High School to critique our debaters.  The week before the debate tournament, we held a two-part mock debate.  All 15 students had the chance to participate in the debate."  Together, Ms. Wicke, Ms. Wiley, the two Manual students (Tyler Darnell and Jesse Schuler), and Mrs. Carr made the tough decision of who would go to the debate tournament.  "We wanted to pick students who were star debaters, but we also wanted to pick students who showed true potential and could benefit from attending the debate," said Ms. Wicke. "It was a very tough decision, but all of the students supported their classmates and were very proud of their success.  The Debate Club was a very rigorous, exciting, and encouraging experience. We thoroughly enjoyed competing in the debate tournament and the learning experience that led up to it."



The Louisville Middle School Student Debate League began with four schools in 2010, had six schools participate in league activities this year, and plans to increase the number of participating schools each year.  For more information about the league, you can visit us at or email Sylvia Bruton at  To indicate an interest in joining us, you can fill out a contact form at


An impressive number of people from the business and professional community volunteered to serve as judges. They shared the following comments:

"The Middle School Debate Program is always a pleasure to be a part of. Students come well-prepared and eager to win and seeing that enthusiasm is priceless. The best debaters are inevitably the ones who listen carefully to their opponents' argument -- you could see the cogs turning as they planned their next responses. Sister Cities is proud to be a Sponsor of this great initiative. The skills learned here will serve these students well for the rest of their lives."  -- Joanne Lloyd Triplett, Executive Director of Sister Cities of Louisville

"What a great way to start the day -- in the presence of such focused, intelligent, heartwarming middle schoolers.  Clearly they had come prepared and eager to speak their truth.  I'm still running on the energy they shared.  Congratulations to them and to their coaches." -- Roz Heinz, Administrative Manager of River City Housing

"Thank you for the time you are investing in such a worthy endeavor. I was very impressed by the arguments the children made to support and negate the resolution. I was also impressed by the community support via the quality and number of judges that invested in the event. I am excited about the great foundation I saw for the building of what could grow to be a great asset in the academic development of young people in our community." -- Tony Darnell, proud parent of two debaters. 

"My experience was wonderful. It is great to see young people, particularly middle schoolers, engaging wholeheartedly in such a worthwhile activity." -- Hunter Davis, Senior McConnell Scholar, University of Louisville 

"As a graduating law student, the topic of the debate was an issue that I am familiar with and enjoy discussing. I was amazed with the enthusiasm, energy and level of excellence displayed by the debaters. Not only were they well prepared, but they were able to think critically on their feet and respond to the challenging questions that were asked by their opponents during the debate. I walked away from the competition knowing full well that the future is still BRIGHT for these kids in particular, and society in general. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of this great experience. I enjoyed myself very much!" -- Courtney L. Phelps, Student Attorney, University of Louisville Law Clinic; Black Law Students Association, President, U of L Chapter  

"It was a great pleasure to take part in the development of this fine program. The student participants are eager and wonderfully well-prepared. I have no doubt that the skills acquired and talents honed in this program will greatly serve their academic and professional futures. I feel privileged for being involved." -- Michael Zeller, McConnell Scholar Class of 2013,  University of Louisville .

"It was an amazing experience to see the confidence of the middle schoolers as they debated each other. I was so impressed that students at this level showed the courage and intellect to argue their points in such a nuanced fashion.  The two teams in my second round showed incredible promise as court room attorneys one day!  I look forward to judging again next year." -- Nichelle Anthony, Communications Specialist, Media & Arts; Ballard, Fern Creek & Pleasure Ridge Park High Schools

Teacher Comment

"It has been an absolute joy to see students accomplish through debate what we as teachers want to see most in the classroom.  That is to see students move from dependent learners to self-motivated, independent learners capable of researching to find information to add to what has already been learned, evaluating, synthesizing and transforming it into new ideas and thought processes.  Listening as students verbalize the importance of listening to peers as a means of gaining new information and ideas, adopting what is useful and helpful and discarding that which is not. The sheer joy of watching students learn the skill and art of learning, developing the ability to communicate ideas, being patient and open to the ideas of others and simply allowing me to fade into the background as a facilitator to keep the conversation moving rather than the source of new ideas. Learning to communicate and disagree in ways that allow everyone to remain intact physically, emotionally, and mentally." -- Angela Allen, Assistant Principal, Crosby Middle School

Article submitted by Sylvia Bruton, Event Coordinator    



Noe Middle School Student Debaters (grade):  Back Row (from left)  Andrew Nguyen Vo (7), Brady Ekman (8), Andi Dahmer (8), Jahne Kobi Brown (7). Bottom Row (from left): Ms. Wicke, Taylor Darnell (7), Seth Thompson (7), Asli Ali (8), Ruby Bevan (6)


Debaters' Choice awards (students)

Left to right, front row: Taylor Fisher (Crosby Middle School), Affirmative; Andi Dahmer (Noe Middle School), Negative

(center: Sylvia Bruton - Event Coordinator)


Photos by Michael Brohm, Red Square Portraits

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