Team Profile: Whitney Young

Misael Gonzalez and Kevin Hirn conclude historic season

Misael Gonzalez (left) and Kevin Hirn (right) are the most decorated urban debate teams in the history of the Chicago Debate League.

The Whitney Young H.S. debaters Misael Gonzalez and Kevin Hirn recently concluded a season of unmatched accomplishment for an urban debate team. They not only captured the city championship of Chicago, as well as the Chase Urban Debate Nationals in New York, but they have also done extremely well on high school debate’s national circuit at tournaments stretching across the Deep South, the Southwest, the Northern Midwest and the East Coast.

Their historic season began by reaching the final round in the first National Circuit tournament of the year, at the Greenhill School in Dallas, and it concluded with an appearance in the Top Ten at the National Circuit Nationals, the Tournament of Champions at the University of Kentucky. In between, their highlights included winning the Mid-American Cup Tournament in Iowa and reaching the semi-final round of one of the largest and best tournaments all year, the Harvard University Invitational.

Whitney Young’s story has drawn the attention of local media. Recently WGN-TV ran a news item on Misael and Kevin’s success and also offering a compelling explanation of the connection between contemporary policy debate and academic performance. You can find a link to the video here. Well worth checking out!

Whitney Young concludes their season in a few weeks by competing at the National Forensic League Nationals in Kansas City.

Misael and Kevin have accomplished all of their national successes while also participating regularly in CDL events. Misael adopted an approach that didn’t distinguish between urban debate and other — instead he prepared for every debate equally. When asked about how he approached the challenge, Misael Gonzalez put it this way: “I find that it is important to erase any lines between yourself and your opponent. It allows you to get in the mode of true competition. I think that performing successfully has definitely changed the way people think about teams with UDL backgrounds though. Which is very nice.”

Jeff Scheur, Whitney Young’s head coach and a teacher in the English Department, talked about his team, “I’m so proud of Misael and Kevin for what they’ve done this year. And I’m thrilled about the success of the Chicago Debate League in general, because I think that engendering political awareness, academic rigor, and intellectual vibrance in our kids is tremendously important. Debate is a great outlet for those who have intellectual drive and need a place to channel it.”

Drew Nishioka, a Project Trainer with IT at Seyfarth Shaw, came on last year as an external coach volunteer at Whitney Young, and as a former National Circuit debater for Glenbrook North H.S., he’s had a big hand in cultivating Misael and Kevin. “The Whitney Young Debate Team has worked tremendously hard this year to achieve its success. The entire team, from Kevin and Misael to the novices works tirelessly because of the pleasure the activity brings to them. Debate work often exceeds thirty hours per week, and all of the research occurs outside of the normal school day and on weekends.”

Kevin Hirn, who was named Third Speaker at the Tournament of Champions, plans to attend and debate at Wake Forest University. “I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that the majority of what I learned in high school came through debate research, which is probably my favorite part of the activity due to the breadth of topics covered and the creativity and challenge needed to come up with a tricky new counterplan or big new advantage. From international relations to postmodern philosophy to economics (an interest piqued by debate that will be my major at Wake Forest next year), I know that I wouldn’t be nearly as interested in the world around me as I am today without debate.”

Misael’s season was capped by winning the Julia Burke Award at the Tournament of Champions. The National Circuit participants at the TOC vote for the winner of this award, and it is generally recognized as an award for the most admired National Circuit debater in the nation. Misael will become the first member of his family to attend college next year at Trinity University in San Antonio, where he will also debate.

Credit for the success of this team and program can also be given to Dr. Joyce Kenner who was honored as the 2010 Chicago Debate League Principal of the Year. Dr. Kenner has been a stalwart supporter of Whitney Young debate since the CDL’s founding thirteen years ago. It’s growth and flourishing is partly a testament to her leadership, constancy and vision.