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In January of 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, backed by a significant grant from the Marcus Foundation and in collaboration with the Florida Education Foundationannounced the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative as part of his civic literacy efforts.

This past weekend, your bloghost had the great pleasure to attend the inaugural National Civics and Debate Tournament in Orlando. This was an interesting and exciting event that featured about 150 middle and high school students from more than 25 schools spanning the breadth of Florida.

The effort itself is an expansion of Florida Debate Initiative, led by Beth Eskin and Tara Tedrow in central Florida. As they say,

So who was at the debate, and what did they have to do? Take a look at the competing schools!

The event featured students competing in four categories: Congressional Debate, Extemporaneous Debate, Impromptu Speaking, and Extemporaneous Sports Analysis. That latter category, Extemporaneous Sports Analysis, is an interesting one. This was the first debate tournament of any significance to feature this sort of activity as a competitive event. Students were given five minutes to do a ‘commentary’ or analysis of a particular sports related topic. For example, ‘will Messi ever win another championship’ or ‘will the influx of European players change the NBA’. Keep in mind that many of these students had very little knowledge of the sports involved, though they had some time to research and develop their arguments. And oh my goodness it was fun to watch! It was as if the students channeled the best of Stephen A. Smith.

Students competed in all of these categories throughout the weekend, and were able to relax and let off some of the stress and pressure with an ice cream social on Friday evening and civics trivia (which was quite fun!) on Saturday. And as you can see below, they did a great deal of work in this competition!

The top 15 middle school students and the top 5 high school students in each event were recognized (with the exception of Extemporaneous Sports Analysis, which was only open to high school students and the top 3 winners were recognized).

Ultimately, however, there can only be one overall winner at each grade span, and look at the size of the trophies featured below! Congrats to Simon Denahan of Kanapaha Middle School and Alex Vilhan of Lake Mary Prep for their wins.

Middle School Champion
Simon Denahan, Kanapaha Middle School, Alachua County
High School Champion
Alex Vihlan, Lake Mary Preparatory School, Seminole County

The opportunity for students to engage in civics and debate is an important one. We here at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship at the Lou Frey Institute are so glad for the opportunity to support the entire civic literacy effort, including the debates.

Are you a Florida teacher or district leader interested in getting civics and debate into your school? This is a supported effort; the state will help you get it going! We encourage you to reach out to the wonderful Elizabeth Eskin, Director of the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative.