Tag Archives: Debate and Public Speaking

From Calgary And Back: A Letter of Thanks From PB

The Owl has finally landed, and our three excellent speakers are back in the fold. In preparation for the competition in Calgary, our work actually began in July: Caroline Lord and Mary Pura enrolled in Debate Camp and spent the week writing, polishing, and rehearsing. Jane Logan spent a month acting in New York City and New Haven. They return to us with rave reviews, very high marks, and several awards. I am still receiving emails from other coaches about these three. They loved their performances, and they loved the way they represented SBS in Canada.


It starts with the Head of School, administration, and faculty—thank you for supporting their voices. An undertaking this large is never effected seamlessly, and I hope their return to Academia flows smoothly.

Karen Pleasant—thank you for navigating these waters. This trip threw you some weather challenges, but you communicated with all concerned parties, and you remembered all that was necessary. Your instincts were, in a phrase, spot on.

Kim Mancuso–thank you for your assistance with Jane Logan and Lillian Hellman’s translation of The Lark; your genius has now spilled over to our program. Bravo!


Mary Pura made the finals in After-Dinner Speaking. Jane Logan made the finals in both After-Dinner and Dramatic Interpretation.  Caroline Lord finished the week with a strong B+ average. There were 132 speakers and 44 teams from all corners of the earth.  Jane, for the second straight year, has been invited to join the US team which will compete, next March, in South Africa.

Thank you SBS—-it takes a village!

– PB (Paul Bassett, Debate Teacher)

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What matters more is what we say.

The following was written by Bryna Cofrin-Shaw a senior at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School. Bryna will be heading to Lithuania this spring as a member of the American Team which will be competing in the World Championship. For more specifics check out the article on our website here.

On October 1st, Sophie Dorsch, Kat Bordewieck and I, along with our coaches Paul Bassett and Cyndee Meese, shuffled into a Deerfield Academy auditorium. The room came as close to the floor of the U.S. Senate as any place I’ve been, and from the circular rows of seats, we had a view of all 165 of our competitors and their coaches. After attendance was taken and logistics taken care of, Deerfield’s debate coach, sent us on our way. “To quote Lorne Michaels, creator of Saturday Night Live”, he said, before letting us go, “We don’t go on because we’re ready; we go on because it’s 11:30. Well, you’re not here because you’re ready; you’re here because it’s October 1st, 2009.” It was comforting to know that maybe I wasn’t the only one whose persuasive speech wasn’t memorized or Radio Newscast persona created, but as I looked around the room, that comfort dissipated quickly. Here was a room full of teenagers from all over the world, all clad in powersuits and uniforms, ties and high-heels, holding stacks of folders and looking around coolly. I was, by all definitions of the word, intimidated.

What proceeded was three days of constant event rounds, lots of fun (and often slightly awkward) social gatherings, Bryna and Sophie prepping for the first roundand many meals spent in the DA dining hall, trading war stories with my coaches and teammates. For those who don’t know anything about debate, or at least this debate, here’s how it worked: each team brings three (or six if you’re international) competitors and each competes in three out of the eight events, some of which are debate (such as Kat’s Parliamentary debate) and some are public speaking (such as Sophie’s Interpretive Reading of Winnie The Pooh). By the end of the weekend, everyone has competed in six rounds, doing each of their categories in front of two separate audiences and judges. It was a long weekend.

Each day brought new combinations of events, new judges, a new chance to compete. Sometimes things went smoothly, other times I forgot lines, ran out of time, tripped over myself. One thing I learned is that when doing Dramatic Interpretation, an event I competed in that is essentially an acted monologue, pretending to be a crazy person is a good way to go. I performed a scene from The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in The Universe as a homeless bag lady who talks to aliens, and when I performed my entire piece in the wrong order the first night, everyone thought the incoherence was deliberate! One unfortunate thing about the weekend was that I never got to see Sophie or Kat perform. Sophie wrote a hilarious After-Dinner speech about a new version of Cash for Clunkers that accepts husbands instead of cars, and I heard that the whole room was laughing, even the judges (who are specifically told not to display emotion). Kat performed an After-Dinner about the famous Darwin Awards, and a Dramatic Interpretation about an abused girl who finds comfort in science. PB described it as “amazing”, and since Kat came in 22nd, the judges must have been impressed as well.

The International Independent Schools’ Public Speaking Competition wasn’t like other debates, though. Unlike most, where you arrive at a school dressed and ready, then debate or speak, hear the results and go home, the IISPSC lasted four days. Every time we competed we just had to put it behind us and look toward the next event, knowing that we would have no idea how we did until Sunday’s final rounds and the Awards Banquet. Unlike other debates, the IISPSC actually gave us a chance to get to know all of the kids we were competing against. The intimidation I felt the first day went away quickly as I began to actually meet my competitors. Just like me, they were practicing their persuasive speeches over and over in their heads and wearing ridiculous costumes for their Dramatic Interpretations.  After each day’s competitions, there was also time for things like Contra Dancing and roasting marshmallows. One of the best parts of the whole tournament was meeting the students who had traveled all the way from countries like Peru and the UK just to be here.SBS Debaters at Deerfield Academy

In the end, Stoneleigh Burnham finished strong. Kat came in 22nd in her Dramatic Interpretation, Sophie came in 46th in Interpretive Reading, and I made it to the final rounds for Radio Newscast and Dramatic Interpretation. I ended up 17th out of 168, and will join eleven other Americans in Lithuania for the World tournament in April. Even though PB, Cyndee, Kat and Sophie won’t be boarding the plane come spring, it’s our whole team that’s going. It was more than a team effort, it was a team win. Each of us brought something to the competition; Sophie’s cheerful outlook and ability to keep everything in perspective, Kat’s debate experience and confidence, and PB’s devotion to the team and his always-wise advice. What I remember most, though, was something that Cyndee said to me: “It’s not about you, it’s about the piece.” As soon as she said that, everything fell into place. It didn’t matter if I felt like a disheveled, nervous wreck sometimes. My mission was to convince judges that sex-reassignment surgeries should be covered by health insurance, my mission was to give a top of the hour newscast, and to convince an audience that I was a homeless woman speaking to aliens. If I learned anything from this weekend it’s that the confidence Stoneleigh-Burnham instills in us doesn’t mean that we have to be self-assured and perfectly composed all the time. What it means is that even if we’re nervous and on the brink of forgetting all we’ve memorized, what matters more is what we say. Kat, Sophie and I all said what we needed to say; we did our speeches, debates, and monologues justice, and can walk away proud.

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Debate and Public Speaking Team Hosts First Tournament of the Year!

The following post was written by Kat Bordewieck, a senior and President of our Debate and Public Speaking Team. Kat will be competing in the International Debate Competition at Deerfield Academy on October 2, 2009 along with two other Stoneleigh-Burnham students. Below are her reflections on the first debate and public speaking tournament of the 2009-2010 school year held at Stoneleigh-Burnham School on September 26, 2009.

Walking out of the drizzle and into reception in my heels and blazer, I wasn’t confident or worried but filled with Awardstrust. Trust that I would compete well, that the day would go smoothly, that our coach Dr. Paul Bassett (aka PB) would finally remember the receipts, and that the Stoneleigh- Burnham Debate and Public Speaking Team would be what I think it is, a force to be reckoned with. This fall Stoneleigh-Burnham School had the honor of hosting the first event in the 2009 DANEIS public speaking season. On that rainy Sunday morning I checked in all twelve schools including Roxbury Latin, St. Paul’s, St. Sebastian’s, Exeter, and Kingswood-Oxford to name a few. As I checked each school in I had the opportunity to meet each one of my competitors as well as reconnect with old friends.

The first round was Interpretive Reading. Our order was alphabetical by last name. I have never resented my last name more. I had to go first, in the first round, at the first debate.  Nevertheless, my time practicing with Cyndee Meese, our acting coach, served me well as my accents of Bathsheba and Liddy from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd filled the room. I later found out that my teammate Bryna also excelled, winning a trophy and a third place prize for her interpretation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which we had helped her pick the week before.

Round two centered on two opposite styles: After Dinner speeches and Persuasive arguments. Sitting in the Biology lab we all laughed at Sarah Palin impersonations, the “real meaning” of the Star Spangled Banner as told by a drunk Englishmen, and my rendition of the Darwin Awards which won me a sixth place out of 23 speakers.  Bryna had another great round and finished first out of 17 for her persuasive speech about changing insurance policies to include sexual reassignment surgeries.

The final round is considered the dark horse of debate. In this round, each student is given less than two minutes to prepare. Competitor after competitor delivered their speech while the judges sat unresponsive–not a cracked smile or encouraging nod among them. My envelope included the prompts: Fenway Faithful, The Faint Hearted never won the Fair lady, and Chip N’ Dale.  Choosing to proceed without a pen and paper, I outlined my thoughts in my head including pop culture, the Salem witch trials, and Renaissance art history in my preparation. Ending each of my rounds with sFinal Awardsatisfaction and confidence,  I finally made my judge laugh out loud.

The awards were given around 5 pm. PB called us “rock stars.” I felt I could finally take a deep breath and relax.

This feeling didn’t last long though as PB went on to remind Bryna, Sophie and me that we are entered in the four day International Tournament at Deerfield Academy next weekend with the world’s best speakers.

The SBS Debate and Public Speaking Team is off to a great start this year. Our advanced team is confident and our novice team has good leaders for help.

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