by Dylan Long ’23
Chaminade High School’s history of excellence stretches well beyond the classroom, theater stage, and athletic field—in fact, it even extends to the courtroom.
Chaminade’s Robert C. Wright Speech and Debate Team is composed of students from all four grade levels. Named after Robert Wright—a Chaminade alum who worked as a lawyer, businessman, and former NBC executive—the primary purpose of this team is for members to develop forensic ability. Evident in the name, there are two main aspects of the team: the speech section and the debate section.
The speech aspect focuses on interpretative events such as “Dramatic Performance” or “Oral Interpretation of Literature.” In these events, members of the team perform a play or short story. Led this year by Scott Cousins ‘23, these interpretive events take a great deal of effort but ultimately pay off, as evinced by the team’s performance at the 2021 New York State Championship.
When introducing new members to the interpretation team, Cousins always begins with a quote from playwright Lee Hall, which he feels embodies performance in speech and debate: “The point of theater is transformation: to make an extraordinary event out of ordinary material right in front of an audience’s eyes.”
The other half of the speech section is more analytical, as members compete in the popular event of “Extemporaneous Speaking.” Students have to be on their A-game with current events and the political climate as, in only 30 minutes, they have to prepare a seven-minute speech on a relevant domestic or political question. Competitors from Chaminade have been highly successful at both invitational and national tournaments in this event, competing at Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and even the State Championship.
Not only is the speech section successful, but so is the debate one. There are two main events for this team: “Lincoln-Douglas Debate” and “Public Forum.”
The Lincoln-Douglas team, led by Zach Stoyer ‘23, is a one-on-one competition where the debate is guided by facts with a backdrop of philosophy. “One thing that debate has helped me with,” Stoyer said, “was confidence in public speaking. Turning what is a fear for so many people into a competition allowed me to develop my public speaking skills.”
One of the most successful members in Lincoln-Douglas is Anthony Scarmozzino ‘24. He has done exceedingly well in national tournaments at Yale, Princeton, and the Lexington Invitational.
The other main event is the Public Forum, a two-on-two competition focusing solely on the evidence and rebuttal arguments. One of Chaminade’s teams that has been successful in this event is the duo of Charlie Bruno ‘24 and Ben Krittman ‘24. They have won tournaments on the local level and placed well on the state level. As Bruno explains, “Debate has taught me many things, but above all, it taught me to be open-minded. To be able to understand concepts and issues from any given standpoint, and learning to communicate and engage with others about this understanding is truly an amazing thing.”
Ms. Crystal Cepeda, Mr. Domenick Ciaccio ‘00, and Mr. Richie DeMarco ‘12 all joined the Speech and Debate squad this year to make the undertaking as successful as possible. Cepeda brings her English background to help out the interpretative events and performance, while Ciaccio uses his writing and composition skills to help the extemporaneous speaking team, focusing on rhetorical structure in the team’s speeches. DeMarco’s past experience as an attorney also adds versatility to the club.
The head moderators of the team are senior religion teacher Bro. Stephen Balletta, S.M. ‘74 and librarian Mrs. Tina Smith. Both have worked diligently to help prepare the team for upcoming tournaments.
Bro. Stephen recalls his time on speech and debate at Chaminade as a way of helping the members out. He says, “I felt like throwing in the towel, but I stuck with it, largely due to the subtle pressure of my dad (a politician), my mom (a former schoolteacher), and my coach (the legendary Bro. George Zehnle). Well, my perseverance paid off. I started winning at local tournaments and qualified for States and Nationals in both my junior and senior years. And, I mean my perseverance really paid off, as Nationals were in Chicago in my junior year and in New Orleans in my senior year. So, if you are not seeing the results that you want, hang in there.” Bro. Stephen’s experience provides a gu iding light to all members of the team, showing the impact that participating in the club can have on one’s life.
Ms. Lindsay McCoy, a Spanish teacher and dedicated assistant moderator of the team, adds, “It is such an honor to moderate an activity that fosters such profound growth in my students, not only academically but personally. The skills built through participating in Speech and Debate construct such palpable levels of confidence and self-efficacy in my students, and are sure to carry them forward in whatever avenues they choose in life.”
Overall, the speech and debate team at Chaminade is exceptionally accomplished and, with the dedication of the members and wisdom of the moderators, the team’s future pursuits will hopefully be just as successful.