Debating superheroes

Twenty-five years of forensics: NDPMA forensic activities gear up for another busy season after spending part of the summer with Eastern Michigan University debating superheroes. 

One of the more popular summer camps at Notre Dame, "Forensics Edge: Speech and Debate," wrapped up last week and participants gave it high marks. 

“That was the most fun I have had…like EVER," said Manath Mohindra, who attended Notre Dame's middle school. Allison Voto, an incoming freshman at Notre Dame Prep, said that she "loved it! It was so much fun!” 

What Manath and Allsion and others in the camp were excited about is a now two-years-running speech and debate camp that Notre Dame sponsors in collaboration with Eastern Michigan University's forensics and debate team, which is the top college program in Michigan and arguably one of the top programs in the U.S.

"Getting college debate coaches to Notre Dame for a summer camp is a great opportunity for students, whether they plan to be competitors on a debate team or just want to be better speakers," said LeAnne Schmidt, who teaches the 8th-grade individuals and societies class and 7th-grade writing and manages the debate activity at NDPMA. She acknowledges, however, that the camp may be popular due to the subject matter of some of the debates.

"Of course, our superhero debate always is popular," she said. "The kids learn debate protocols while they’re making cases for superhero matchups in sweet 16-style brackets. Because they know the material and subject matter from popular culture, and it’s not that intimidating, they quickly learn the affirmative/negative rotations and cross-examination skills before moving on to meatier, more Congressional topics in the final debates. Even veteran debaters ask to return for the superhero debates."

Largest program in the country

As school begins again in a few weeks, NDPMA's debate activities, which include those in the middle school and high school, are gearing up for a big year of competition and events.

In the middle school, all students by default become members of the National Speech and Debate Association’s National Forensic League. That type of all-inclusive participation has made Notre Dame's middle school the largest middle school speech and debate program in the United States. 

"At all grade levels and in all classes, students earn honor points for speeches and classroom demonstrations, incrementally building their experience and skill as public speakers in all types of presentation and performance," Schmidt said. "Students also earn recognition for engaging in speeches in service to the school, such as daily announcements, mass readings, and speaking to groups of parents, students, and guests. In addition, they can qualify for honor points through speeches in service to the larger community, such as scouting events, church and youth group activities, or civic organizations like the Rotary or Lions clubs."

Schmidt pointed out that speech and debate club members and Michigan Youth in Government participants also can earn competition points at various tournaments and conferences throughout the state of Michigan. She said the middle school has been represented in National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) national competitions and that points earned in middle school continue into high school in the NSDA’s National Forensic League, which is an honor society for high school public speaking.

Luck of the Irish tourney

At the high school level, Notre Dame Prep is a longtime participant in debate and forensics.

"For 25 years, NDP has competed in the Detroit Catholic Forensic League and its parent organization, the National Catholic Forensic League, including regularly qualifying students for the national tournament," Schmidt said. "And NDP is a founding member of the Great Lakes Debate League, engaging in Congressional Debates locally, and the school participates in both the Michigan Interscholastic Forensics Association (MIFA) and the MSCI Mackinac Conference."

Beginning in 2019, Schmidt said a contingent of students is competing in the Michigan Youth in Government high school conference and debating on the floor of the State House and Senate chambers in Lansing. She also said NDP hosts a chapter of the National Speech and Debate Association and has qualified students for the national competition — the largest academic competition in the world. 

"For the last eight years, we also have hosted the Luck of the Irish Invitational tournament on St. Patrick’s Day weekend to share school spirit with the state speech and debate community," Schmidt said. "It has become a magnet for both high school and middle school competitors looking for a day of enjoyable competition and camaraderie."

Award winning and confidence building

Notre Dame students have brought home their fair share of debate awards, according to Schmidt.

"John Kenny, who graduated last May, was our first NSDA Academic All-American," she said. "He also was named the best legislator at Michigan Youth in Government and was the #1 NSDA Congressional debater in the state. Last year, Amishi Mahajan, as a tenth grader, and Katie Schmidt, as a ninth grader, qualified for and competed at the National Catholic Forensic League Nationals in May. Six NDPMA middle schoolers competed on Mackinac Island for the MSCI state tournament, also in May."

Schmidt said this school year's forensic schedule is still being firmed up, but she can announce a couple of events during the next few months.

"Our high schoolers will compete at Rochester Adams on one of the last two Thursdays in September," she said. "And the middle school debaters will be attending the Michigan Youth in Government event November 24-26."

Schmidt wants to emphasize that the commitment of NDPMA to speech and debate activities stems primarily from the recognition that developing skills of articulation, argumentation, research, presentation and courage empower students to meet the challenges they will face as they head toward graduation; when they advance to the collegiate sphere; and when they begin careers.

"Whether for interviews, presentations or connecting with clients, confident speaking abilities are needed in virtually every profession," she said. "It is the aim of Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy to make sure students are equipped to present themselves and their educational qualities well upon completion of their academic pursuits at our school."

Comments or questions?

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About Notre Dame 
Notre Dame is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named Michigan's best 50 Catholic high school three of the last four years ( Notre Dame's lower and middle schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All Notre Dame schools have been authorized by International Baccalaureate as "World Schools" and the entire institution is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers. It is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame, visit the school's home page at