GBN Fast Talkers Fight Frequently, Win Frequently
Glenbrook North's debate team, third at nationals last year, gears up for another round of competitions.
In this after-school activity, it’s not about how fast you can run or how many touchdown passes you can throw. It’s about how many words you can spit out per minute and how convincing you are.
The activity is debate—and Northbrook is home to one of the nation’s top high school teams at Glenbrook North. Last year the team won the state competition and placed third overall in nationals, and has years worth of national tournaments under its belt.
The team is led by GBN grad Michael Greenstein, a former debater himself who was recently recognized for outstanding potential as a debate coach by the Illinois Speech and Theatre Association.
“There’s not really an official ranking but I would say that we are in the top three in the country just based on our success,” Greenstein said.
The team is gunning for another round of success in tournaments this spring, particularly in the political science category—GBN’s specialty.
Each year high school teams from around the country are given the same topic in the political science category. This year’s topic focuses on America’s military presence around the globe and whether it should withdraw troops from six occupied countries. Like other teams, Glenbrook North picks one of those six countries to focus on and researches every angle of the debate.
The team then travels the country to face off against other high school teams. Getting there used to be half the battle, Greenstein said. Before a recent technology innovation, he had to rent a van to the airport just to make room for the 40 bins of evidence, which in total weighed about 2,000 pounds.
Now, instead of taking random pieces of paper from various bins during debates, students use a computer program that allows them to organize all their files in one Word document, making for a lighter trip.
“It makes travel a lot easier,” Greenstein said. “It’s great and it saves us a lot of money.”
The school district helps fund many of the trips but the team also hosts one of the largest high school tournaments in the country, The Glenbrooks, to help raise money for traveling expenses. It’s not only one of the largest debates in the country but is also one of the most prestigious.
Using the money raised during the home-court tournament in the fall, the team travels to many noteworthy debate tournaments and is able to showcase its talent.
Debates, however, are not only about short-term accolades.
“It pushes people to develop life-long skills really quickly,” Greenstein said.
Junior Rachel Boroditsky’s parents introduced her and her older brother to debate, encouraging them to pursue an activity they hoped would expand their children’s knowledge, she said.
Boroditsky was skeptical at first but caved and eventually grew to enjoy the “nerdy” activity. some of her best friends are even debaters, she said.
The “nerdy” activity has paid off: Boroditsky’s brother went on to attend Princeton, and Boroditsky herself is hoping for the same fate—an acceptance letter to an Ivy League school, specifically Harvard.
Debate also paved the way for coach Greenstein, who was awarded a full scholarship to attend Emory University in Atlanta, considered a top debating school.
His peers and friends have moved onto bigger places, which Greenstein also attributes to their participation in debate. For example, one former teammate is now a clerk for the United States Supreme Court.
While Greenstein maintains that debate preps students for life beyond college, he notes that “it’s rare that debate people become doctors.”
Boroditsky, however, may be the exception. She said she is thinking about life in the medical field.
“I’ve just been recently interested in genetic engineering,” Boroditsky said.
But she added that the tools she’s learning after school during debate really aren’t that different from skills she’d need while practicing medicine. Debate is all about being able to think fast on your feet and thinking critically, she said, which also makes her more efficient and effective in school.
“I can write a better thesis than the majority of my junior class and it’s a lot easier for me since I know how to do the research,” she said.
This year Boroditsky and her partner, senior Mitchel Hochberg, have been preparing for the political science debate on military presence abroad. The catch is that they have to be knowledgeable enough to argue both sides of the issue.
“That’s really where the value in debate is because you have to debate [both sides],” Greenstein said. “As a teacher, that’s one of my favorite aspects.”
This coming weekend the team will travel to Atlanta for a debate tournament and will be squaring off against other high schools at Glenbrook North's tournament March 4-5.
As for the possibility of making it downstate again?
“I’m not sure how we’re going to do,” Boroditsky said. “But we’re going to work very hard to do well.”