By Emily Williams
Carrying on Mountain Brook Schools’ legacy of strong speech and debate participants, two students from Mountain Brook Junior High made their presence known at the National Speech and Debate Middle School Tournament.
Rising ninth-graders Jane Grey Battle and Claire Lauterbach won the national championship in public forum debate. They were the only team from Alabama to compete in the category, going up against 93 other teams. Overall there were more than 1,200 entries from 166 middle schools across the U.S., China, Taiwan and South Korea represented at the tournament, held June 20-22 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
“It took a while for the win to sink in,” said Battle. “Claire and I were stunned when, standing there in front of (more than) 1000 people, they announced the unanimous decision of the 5-judge panel in our favor.”
Battle and Lauterbach debated whether to keep the North American Free Trade Agreement intact, winning from a “con” stance in the final round. The duo competed in 11 rounds of debate over three days, winning over teams from California, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Virginia and China to end with a 10-1 record.
“It was so incredible to be able to debate teams from all over the country and overseas,” said Lauterbach. “We made once in a lifetime connections with people that otherwise we never would have met.”
Both team members said they were happy just to be able to participate in the tournament, so winning was just the icing on the cake.
“Nationals is also such a great way to spread the word about debate, especially for middle-schoolers,” Lauterbach said, adding that she and her teammate hope that the tournament itself and their win might possibly influence other kids in Alabama to start debating.
Lauterbach was originally pushed to join the debate team by her father.
“Going in, I just thought it would just be a supervised way to argue,” she said. “After becoming a part of the team, I learnt it was so much more.”
Through their participation on the debate team, Lauterbach said she found that, while the team does require some arguing, it also teaches students to keep up-to-date on current events, learn to think quickly and critically and is an opportunity to create new and lasting friendships with students that they may not have spent a lot of time with otherwise.
Battle, on the other hand, needed no push to join the team.
“In fifth grade, I walked up to the debate table and tried to talk my way into the program even though I was too young,” she said. “It’s fair to say that I knew I’d like debate from the start.”
After participating in her first tournament three years ago, Battle said she was hooked; though she didn’t realize back then that her love of debate would shape her future interest in current events, her friendships and even what schools she would begin to consider as she starts thinking about college.
“Overall, I just feel grateful and excited to be part of the future of Mountain Brook debate,” Battle said. “It was only possible because of my great partner, (Lauterbach), along with the support of experienced coaches and teammates who helped us prepare for those final rounds. It was truly a team effort and a team win.”
Fellow MBJH debaters at the competition included eighth-grader Christian Glenos and ninth-grader Jack Sansbury competing in the Lincoln Douglas debate. They went up against 73 other debaters discussing the topic of whether the United States’ use of targeted killing in foreign countries is unjust.
Both advanced to elimination rounds and Glenos was recognized as the fourth-best speaker in that division.
Though the Mountain Brook Debate Team has been around since the 1980s, this is the fourth year the junior high school team has existed.
Debate coach Elizabeth Wood-Weas now oversees the teams nearly 70 members, as well as serving as district chair and middle school curriculum committee member for the Alabama chapter of the National Speech and Debate Association. It’s a project that benefits not only the school and its students, but the city as a whole.
According to Wood-Weas, Mountain Brook’s hosting the national tournament last summer generated an estimated $14 million dollars for Mountain Brook and Birmingham.
* This article was updated on Aug. 16 to include words from Jane Grey Battle.