Spotlight on Marshall Debate Program

First Place in City’s Allstate “Expanded Opportunities” Initiative

John Marshall Metropolitan High School reflects its North Lawndale neighborhood in facing many challenges. CPS recently announced that it is one of two high schools that will undergo “turnaround” intervention, meaning that its administration and faculty are being reconstituted. But the Marshall Debate Team is an indisputably high-performing program. It now ranks #1 in an initiative sponsored by Allstate — called the “Expanding Opportunities” Initiative — that targets the CDL’s most high-poverty schools, and received an incentive award of $750 from Allstate at the mid-point of the season.

The Marshall High School debate program is truly worthy of special recognition. Their two coaches, Don Baumgartner and Jim Dorrell, have done an outstanding job over the past four years building the Marshall Debate Team into one of the city’s highest-performing debate programs. 91% of Marshall’s student population comes from low-income families. Despite long odds, Mr. Baumgartner and Mr. Dorrell have built a debate program that is highly functioning, very competitive and achieving strong and steady participation.

Marshall Debate has met the National Urban Debate Participation Standard at all of the Chicago Debate League tournaments this season. They are currently ranked sixth out of fifty-two high schools in the city in terms of total participation, the highest neighborhood school in the rankings. Marshall has increased its participation since last year by 143%, indicating solid momentum toward growth. Finally, Marshall Debate is seventh in the city in the cumulative Medal Count, which aggregates competitive results at all tournaments throughout the year.

Les Lynn, Executive Director of the CDC, said, “This performance is highly commendable and is truly admired by Marshall’s coaching colleagues around the city and by the CDL administrators. Their two coaches have become outstanding leaders and teachers of debate.”

The Marshall debate team consists of twenty students and they take eight to nine teams to each tournament. They are experiencing an upsurge in interest among their student population in being on the policy debate team. Last year their team of Raygene Bryce and Datrease Hearne won a Conference “AA” tournament in the JV Division. This year they were moved up to Conference “A,” and their accomplishments have only accelerated, winning three championships (all JV) and qualifying five teams for the Chicago Debate Championship.

Coach Jim Dorrell explained the substantial barriers many of the Marshall debaters overcome in order to be successful. “Our students have had to overcome many obstacles in order to achieve their success. We have had one debater who has been living in homeless shelters for the past two years. She often has to get permission from the shelters to attend tournaments because they don’t allow people to enter after ten o’clock. She is one of our best debaters and works harder than anyone on our team.”

Dorrell continued, “Most of the other debaters walk past drug dealers and gang members to get to and from school. Practicing after school keeps these kids off the streets. Debate has been a tremendous force in their lives. A lot of these kids didn’t think they could be successful at this sort of academic activity. Once they realize they can, it changes their outlook on life entirely. They realize there are no limitations on what they can accomplish.”

Titus Perez, a debater on the Marshall team says, “Debate keeps me busy and I know that it will pay off in the long run in college and in my career. Plus I don’t have to worry about being shot or arrested. I also like winning.”