Tarendran Heyward, seated, makes a point in discussion with fellow H-F Debate Club members, from left, Kevin Gibek, Harold Owens, and Undra Pillows. (Marilyn Thomas photos/H-F Chronicle)
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Preparations are important as H-F debaters take on weighty subjects

Tarendran Heyward, seated, makes a point in discussion with fellow H-F Debate Club members, from left, Kevin Gibek, Harold Owens, and Undra Pillows. (Marilyn Thomas photos/H-F Chronicle)
Tarendran Heyward, seated, makes a point in discussion with fellow H-F Debate Club members, from left, Kevin Gibek, Harold Owens, and Undra Pillows. (Marilyn Thomas photos/H-F Chronicle)

Should social media companies, like Facebook and YouTube, continue to be responsible for third party content posted by users? Or should those restrictions be lifted?

That’s just one of the weighty topics Debate Club students at Homewood-Flossmoor High School prepare to argue when they go up against competitors at regional and national matches.

Coach Katie Cole says it takes lots of preparation to come out on top. Once students get a topic, they have just a few weeks to do research needed to compose arguments – both pro and con, practice their presentations and be ready to face their opponent in a timed match.

And, she points out, this is an after school program. Students are not doing this for a grade.

Cole helps students select from the debate formats – public forum or Lincoln-Douglas.

Members of the Homewood-Flossmoor High School Debate Club has been scoring victories in regional and national competitions. Debaters include, from left, Evelyn Malvestuto, Undra Pillows, Kevin Gibek, Tarendran Hayward and Harold Owens. (Marilyn Thomas photos/H-F Chronicle)
Members of the Homewood-Flossmoor High School Debate Club has been scoring victories in regional and national competitions. Debaters include, from left, Evelyn Malvestuto, Undra Pillows, Kevin Gibek, Tarendran Hayward and Harold Owens.

Public forum debaters are a two-person team that argues each month on a current affairs topic. Students are provided with a topic every two months that will be used for debates during that period. 

In competition, a coin toss will determine which side of the argument students will be presenting to judges. Debaters are given 2 to 4 minutes each, so H-F students learn to present three concise arguments.

After presenting their arguments, debaters go through cross-fire, the second part of the competition that has teams question the arguments of the opposing team for 3 minutes.

There is a 4-minute break so students can prepare for Round 2.

The final round of debate is rebuttal. The second person on the team addresses the opponent’s arguments and findings from crossfire.

Lincoln-Douglas debates are 45 to 50 minutes, but rather than a team, it is an H-F student debating an opponent. The topics deal with ethics and morals and change every other month. A debater gets 3 to 7 minutes to present an argument, then crossfire questions and a final round of response.

Senior Tarendran Heyward, now in his second year of debate, argues public forum format, in addition to being on the volleyball team and his International Baccalaureate classes. 

“When you hear your name called (at tournaments) you just feel so good,” he said. Last school year, he and his partner, Max Zeman, won third place in state competition.

But Heyward, like others on H-F debate, says their participation is so much more than that. 

“I’ve always thought of myself as a decent speaker, but debate has really made me have an intellectual aspect and how I form arguments,” Heyward said. “Everything’s more precise now that I’m in debate.”

Competitions are every couple of weeks. Recent topics have focused on housing rights, student loan forgiveness and whether the U.S. should have a greater presence in the Arctic. 

Attorney Elise Meintanis helps H-F debaters prepare for an upcoming debate where they will argue the finer points of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Debaters put in hours of preparation to familiarize themselves with national and international issues.
Attorney Elise Meintanis helps H-F debaters prepare for an upcoming debate where they will argue the finer points of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Debaters put in hours of preparation to familiarize themselves with national and international issues.

Senor Kevin Gibek, who has been on debate for four years, typically debates Lincoln-Douglas style. He likes it because the topics deal with issues that have a moral question, and it offers him more freedom to select the direction he’ll take.

He’s the top ranked debater at H-F. In October he took first place speaker and first place team honors at the H-F Debate Invitational arguing the question on a right to housing in the U.S. 

In addition to his work in the International Baccalaureate Program, National Honor Society, Mu Alpha Theta and Spanish honors, Gibek has a 90-minute sports program on WHFH, the H-F radio station. He still prioritizes debate, spending hours developing his arguments.

At the Cal State Long Beach Invitational in September, Gibek finished fourth out of 72 contestants and defeated the 2022 Lincoln-Douglas National Speech and Debate Association national champion. That, he says, was a hard fought victory. He flew in from Chicago and started the first round. He kept debating into the semi-final round that ended at 9:30 p.m.

The Debate Club calendar is booked for the next several months with matches in Minnesota, the Peninsula Invitational in California and the Cavalier Invitational in North Carolina. Students have their Debate Club meetings and an online chat group to help keep them on track.

Aliya Gaskin, a freshman, was encouraged by her parents, Alicia and Myron Gaskin, to join debate. She spends seven days a week preparing for Lincoln-Douglas competitions. Her parents critique her, reminding her to enunciate and making certain her pronunciations are correct. She recently earned a third place Speaker Award in the novice Lincoln-Douglas category at the Libertyville High School Wildcat Debate Tournament in December.

Evelyn Malvestuto is a first-year debater. “I was just convinced to join” by other seniors in the International Baccalaureate Program. She worked to fit it into her schedule that includes performing on the cello at out of school orchestra events, competitive fencing, National Honors Society and other in-school activities.

“I’m making it work,” she said, adding she’s enjoying Debate Club and knows she’s “learning a lot of good things.”

The Debate Club has 20 or more members at any time, Cole said. She welcomes all who want to try out. H-F debaters who placed in competitions this year are Max Benitez, Jared Bray,  Jada Cherry, Taylor Christal, Philip Dickey, Aliya Gaskin, Kevin Gibek, Tarendran Heyward, Evelyn Malvestuto, Undra Pillows, Zavier Scott, Joshua Wicks, Giesel Woods, Myles Wright and Max Zeman. 

Teams work with assistant coaches are Beverly Lenore, Emily Carroll, Dan Bush and Tiana Sharpe.

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