Dunwoody High School students Robert Galerstein and Hayley Hopkins took top honors at a national debate tournament at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., the second weekend in September.
Galerstein was named the top varsity speaker of the event, based on points awarded in each round by the judges. Galerstein and Hopkins were undefeated as a debate duo, tying with a team from Atlanta’s Grady High School. Because the tournament ran late into the Sunday night of competition, officials and the teams agreed to hold the tie-breaking round to determine the winner at a later date in Atlanta.
According to the DHS debate team coach, Kevin Travis, it was the first time a DHS debate team competing at a national tournament had reached the finals and had a debater named top speaker.
“It is outstanding that our debate team did so well. I’m really proud of them,” said the DHS principal, Rodney Swanson. “They have been working really hard and Mr. Travis has prepared them very well.”
Galerstein, a senior, and Hopkins, a junior, each checked out the debate team at the suggestion of their literature teacher in their sophomore and freshman years, respectively. Each has enhanced debating skills by attending debate camp during the summer, Galerstein at Emory University and Dartmouth College and Hopkins at Emory.
“[Being a good debater is] not just about being smart, it’s about how you debate,” Galerstein said. “It’s a faster form of information processing. [In competition] people speak much faster so you learn how to respond to arguments quickly.”
To be able to fire back responses, “You have to be so keyed into the subject matter,” Galerstein said.
Hopkins said the “level of intensive research” was one of the factors in debate that appealed to her. “You’re looking at all different viewpoints,” she added.
Each student has been able to apply research and debating skills to class work and other areas of their lives.
“[Advanced research skills] helps make studying easier, and class participation is easier, [for example] swaying people to your opinion,” said Galerstein, who also plays tenor sax in the concert band and is co-president of the environmental coalition and a member of honor societies.
“It helps me create coherent thoughts and better articulate an argument, even if I’m discussing [for example] politics with someone,” said Hopkins, who participates in student government and Girl Scouts and is a member of honor societies. “It’s helped me see different sides of things that can help create a better argument in any situation.”
Seeing all sides of an issue is critical in debate competition because each team is told whether to argue a “for” or “against” position in each round, explained Coach Travis. The DHS team topic at the Wake Forest tournament was “Space Exploration: Should the U.S. Government Explore or Develop Outer Space?” Galerstein and Hopkins argued each position an equal number of times.
Travis, who also teaches social studies and AP psychology, has been the debate team coach for seven years. In addition to teaching team members the most effective research skills to gather information and develop arguments to support their positions, he guides them in learning how to argue or discuss in a civil manner.
“If you make personal attacks [during a debate], it reflects poorly on how the team is judged. You attack the argument, not the person,” said Travis, a former Fayette County high school debater.
At the Wake Forest tournament, the DHS team was one of 104, mostly from the Eastern U.S. Other metro Atlanta high schools participating, in addition to Grady, were Alpharetta, Chattahoochee, Johns Creek, Marist, Pace Academy and Wheeler.
“Robert and Hayley are two of the hardest working students I’ve worked with,” Travis said. “They were willing to put in the extra time and effort to do well.”
Hopkins, the daughter of Lisa Love and Mark Hopkins, called the tournament outcome “unbelieveable,” adding, “I worked so hard. Robert worked so hard. He’s an amazing partner.”
Coming in number one for the first time was great, said Galerstein, the son of Alice Penton and Bill Galerstein. “It was good to start out the team year with a win.”
In debate-worthy persuasive fashion, Galerstein added: “Debate is [thought of as] a privileged activity. Other schools get funding. DHS doesn’t get funding. We’d like to go to as many tournaments as we deserve to.”
In addition to team captains Galerstein and Hopkins, other DHS varsity debate team members are Hardika Dhir, Misbah Lalani, Zach Leitz and Andrew Weatherly. Novice members are Cassidy Drew, Ty Flynn, Anna Henderson, Kelsey Nicholson and Corey Oliver.
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