By CHRIS EBERHART
Danny DeBois, a 17-year-old senior at Harrison High School, is the country’s No. 1 Lincoln-Douglas debater, which is a one-on-one, timed form of debates. Come August, he will take his talents to Bangkok, Thailand to partake in an international debate competition.
DeBois was selected by the National Forensic League—along with nine students across the nation—to represent Team U.S.A. in the World Schools Debating Championship, which is the premier international debate competition for high school students. The students will debate social, moral and political issues. Past participants of the debate include Nelson Mandela and Tony Blair.
“It’s really exciting to be able to represent the United States. I enjoy meeting kids my age from around the world and broadening my perspective about how American culture differs from cultures abroad,” DeBois said. “Of course, I have some butterflies, but that’s part of the fun. I think everyone gives impassioned speeches when under a little bit of stress.”
Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, presented DeBois with a certificate of achievement on behalf of the Town of Harrison for his past success during the March 20 Town Council meeting.
DeBois has already etched his name in the record books after a dazzling fall debate season with competition wins at the Apple Valley Minnesota National Championship, The Glennbrooks Tournament in Chicago and, most recently, at the Princeton University Tournament. In the process, he’s become the first debater in history to hold all three titles at once.
In addition to the first-place finishes, DeBois, who was representing the Harrison School District and New York State, also placed third overall among 116 debaters at the Victory Briefs Tournament held at the Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, Calif.
Since the fall season, DeBois—along with two debaters from California—won an international tournament in Slovenia in addition to the win at the New York Catholic Forensic League’s district tournament and qualified for Nationals for the third year in a row.
DeBois’ most recent tournament was held in Dallas, Texas where he and two other Harrison teammates placed second.
The international competition will be in the Worlds School debate format, which Chetan Hertzig, a Harrison High School teacher who doubles as the school’s debate coach, said will be an adjustment for DeBois because this format is different than the American Lincoln-Douglas debate formats he has grown accustomed to.
“From what I can tell, the Worlds School debate format is a bit more focused on presentation and common sense than on American Lincoln-Douglas debate, which—on the national level—tends to be more about speed and quantity of arguments,” Hertzig said. “Additionally, Worlds-style debate may expose Danny to an even wider variety of judges than he’s used to, since it seems to use more community members in addition to judges trained in the activity.”
But Hertzig, who started the Harrison debate team in 2009, said DeBois’ ability to adapt to the style of debate at any particular competition is what makes him stand out from the rest of the debaters.
“He’s a chameleon,” Hertzig said, “[He] can debate in any style and in front of any type of judge. He’s also one of the most intellectually gifted debaters I’ve ever seen and learns tremendous amounts of material at an unbelievably fast rate. There’s simply no other debater like him.”
DeBois said there’s still work to be done before the international tournament in Thailand, but his confidence level is high.
“At this moment, I recognize there are things I need to do to be able to appeal to non-American judges and to make myself persuasive to them,” he said. “While I know that will take a lot of effort, I’m confident I’ll be able to put in the work and improve in those respects.”
Danny has been debating since his freshman year in high school and has traveled to 13 states and Washington D.C. for debates.
As far as practice goes, DeBois said the team has two-and-a-half hour practice two to four times a week, which includes a practice round, researching evidence for a topic and redoing speeches from earlier rounds. He said, for additional practice on his own, he does more research, practices, rebuttals and does independent work with Hertzig, to whom he gives a lot of credit.
“Without [Hertzig], none of this would be possible,” DeBois said.
Next year, DeBois will attend Harvard University.