Policy debaters Carter Levinson and Henry Heligas of Homewood-Flossmoor High School are ranked among the top 10 high school debate teams in the country this year.
Teacher and coach Katie Cole said Levinson and Heligas earned that ranking after competing in eight major debate competitions. They also received a special invitation to Harvard University’s Round Robin tournament Feb. 11 through 13 where they placed third overall, and Levinson was named the number one speaker in Round Robin.
The pair placed 16th at the Harvard National High School Invitational Forensics Tournament at Harvard University Feb. 16. Levinson was named the top debater from among 166 students.
In a double octo-finalist round in the Harvard forensics tourney, the team lost in a 2-1 decision. Overall, they had a record of six wins and two losses in the tournament.
“I could shout it from the rooftop, I’m so proud of them,” said Cole. “The Round Robin is exclusive. When you get an invitation to the Round Robin you know you’re doing something right, especially the Harvard invite.”
Levinson, the son of Kelly and James Levinson of Homewood, and Heligas, the son of Kelly Heligas and Megan Millen of Flossmoor, are taking the honor in stride.
The team recently placed in the top 16 teams out of 116 in competition at Emory University and Levinson was selected the seventh place speaker from 232 debaters. They’ve also competed in Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Florida and locally at New Trier and Glenbrook High Schools.
After each tournament the pair spends time assessing their format, going over rebuttals, listening to their delivery and thinking through how they can improve.
Their ultimate goal is to win a bid to the Tournament of Champions in Lexington, Ky., April 30-May 2. Cole calls it “the Super Bowl of Debate.” Teams need wins in at least three major competitions to be considered for this tournament. Levinson and Heligas now have six wins.
Levinson, a senior, was paired this year with Heligas, a junior. His partner the previous three years, Bobby Swetz, is now in parliamentary debate at Southern Illinois University.
Since summer, Levinson and Heligas have been working on the topic of domestic surveillance. Because they keep the same topic for debate throughout the school year, the teammates are constantly researching to keep their information as current as possible. Levinson estimates he spends 30 hours a week on research.
They each prepare several presentations arguing pros and cons. As they move up in the competition and the field narrows, they begin to see the same teams over and over, so they will keep a few new facts on hold until the final rounds, Cole said.
One of their training exercises is rapid-fire speech. It helps them improve their response times at debates and sharpens their memories.
Heligas finds debate “teaches you to think about things differently. Where once you had seen arguments that are solidly presented in the media, you learn to have a more critical lens.
“The more you read about different ideas, different thoughts, and look for the shortcomings in different thoughts, you learn to have a critical process for analyzing the world about you.”
For Levinson, debate has introduced him to history and philosophy, fields he will focus on in college.
“It’s introduced me to those fields of research. It’s demanded me to research at an incredibly high level,” he says. “It’s given me speaking skills, increased my confidence to research, speak and conduct arguments. It’s also helped me choose my career. I would like to be a university professor teaching history.
“And so debate has given me the means and the desire to meet those educational goals.”