Saline Debate Teams Reap Medal Haul


The Saline Area Schools Middle and High School Speech teams have had an outstanding 2021 season and celebrated their solid performances at the Saline Debate Team Awards Night on January 19, 2022. The teams are led by Ms. Shelly Venema, SHS Debate Head Coach, who is now in her 10th
year of coaching. Ms. Venema is assisted by staff members Mrs. Laura Engelhuber (SMS), Ms. Kennedy Willett (Asst. SHS) and Ms. Linda Badri. Additional assistance is provided by Alex Shoflick and Daniel Chayes, from the University of Michigan. There are 16 students on the SMS Debate team and 27 students on the SHS Debate team. These students compete in two categories: Public Forum and Congress at the Novice and Varsity levels and are done virtually using Zoom.

Students who compete in Public Forum (PF) need to be able to work well with a partner. Balanced teams, both in terms of preparation before debates and contributions within a debate, helps provide a competitive advantage during tournaments. PF is the newest form of debate in the Association and looks at current even topics. Students who do PF must be prepared to debate in front of judges without any formal debate training. Being able to persuade a range of judges is a central component to this event. Additionally, PF is focused upon debating varying resolutions that change frequently, which exposes students to a variety of topics during a singular competitive season. Public Form teams can win debate rounds, proceed to quarterfinals then finals. In addition, speaker awards are given based on a point system to individual speakers. The two topics for this season’s tournaments were:

  • September/October - Resolved: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization should substantially increase its defense commitments to the Baltic states.
  • November/December - Resolved: Increased United States federal regulation of cryptocurrency transactions and/or assets will produce more benefits than harms.

Congressional Debate is a mock legislative assembly competition where students’ draft bills (proposed laws) and resolutions (position statements), which they and their peers later debate and vote to pass into law. While coaches aren’t always required to submit legislation to meets, it gives their students the right to an authorship speech, introducing the bill or resolution to the chamber. In advance of the meet, a docket of submitted titles or full legislative text are distributed to participating schools, so students may research and prepare themselves for the debate.

These teams have participated in these tournaments so far this season, resulting in these awards:

Varsity Awards:

  • West Bloomfield Invitational Debate Tournament
    • Congress – Sarah Yousif, 1st Place
  • Pappas Invitational
    • Public Form – Lizzy Sandru and Anna Healy, 2nd Place
      • Speaker Awards - Neah Sachdeva, 6th Place; Lizzy Sandru and Anna Healy, 8th Place
    • Congress – Sara Yousif, 1st Place
  • Holt Debate Invitational
    • Public Forum - Eva Cuento and Lola O’Connor, 1st Place
      • Speaker Awards - Lola O’Connor, 3rd Place, Eva Cuento, 6th
        Place, Caroline Pangilinan, 10th Place
  • Groves Falcon Invitational
    • Public Forum – Reed Recchia and Andrew Strong (Semifinalist)
      • Speaker Awards - Andrew Strong, 2nd Place; Michael Bryant, 10th
    • Congress – Sarah Yousif, 1st Place; Andreanna Ulery, 6th
  • Dexter Debate Delight
    • Public Forum – Neil Sachdeva and Lizzy Sandru (Quarterfinalist)
      • Speaker Award – Lizzy Sandru, 2nd Place
    • Congress – Sarah Yousif, 1st Place; Andreanna Ulery, 7th
  • Michigan Interscholastic Forensics Association State Finals
    • Public Forum – Eva Cuento and Lola O’Connor (Semifinalist Varsity Division)
      • Speaker Award: Lola O’Connor 2nd Place Speaker
    • Congress – Sarah Yousif, 3rd Place Varsity Division

Novice Awards (SHS):

  • West Bloomfield Invitational Debate Tournament
    • Public Forum Speaker Awards - Carolyn Kwon, 1st Place; Neah Bloch, 2nd
    • Congress – Max Watkins, 5th Place
  • Pappas Invitational
    • Public Forum - Carolyn Kwon and Alice Jiang, 1st Place
    • Congress – Max Watkins, 3rd Place
  • Holt Debate Invitational
    • Public Forum Speaker Award - Neah Bloch, 1st Place
    • Congress: Max Watkins, 1st Place
  • Groves Falcon Invitational
    • Public Forum – Owen Bloch and Preston Lyn, Quarterflinalist
      • Speaker Award – Owen Bloch, 5th Place
    • Congress – Caroline Pangilinan, 5th Place; Max Watkins, 8th
  • Dexter Debate Delight
    • Congress – Caroline Pangilinan, 1st Place; Max Watkins, 3rd
  • Michigan Interscholastic Forensics Association State Finals
    • Public Forum – Neah Bloch and Michael Gasparovic, 2nd Place
      • Speaker Awards - Neah Bloch, 3rd Place; Michael Gasparovic, 10th

Saline Middle School – students competed in Public Forum Debate

  • West Bloomfield Invitational Debate Tournament – participated as a workshop
  • Pappas Invitational
    • Kate Gilchrist and Alisha Sachdeva, 1st Place
    • Speaker Awards – Kate Gilchrist, 1st Place, Alisha Sachdeva, 6th
  • Holt Debate Invitational – participated
  • Groves Falcon Invitational
    • Speaker Awards – Kate Gilchrist, 6th Place, Alisha Sachdeva, 7th
  • Dexter Debate Delight
    • Speaker Awards – Addison Bar, 1st Place; Henry Lizotte, 5th
      Place; Gabriel Romero, 6th Place, Arjun Sennerikuppam, 10th
  • Michigan Interscholastic Forensics Association State Finals
    • Speaker Awards – Kate Gilchrist, 6th Place; Alisha Sachdeva, 7th

Upcoming events for SHS teams include:

  • SHS is going to compete in Public Forum National Qualifiers (Feb. 26) and in Congressional Debate (March 5).
  • The debate team will attend the Michigan Speech Coaches, Inc. Tournament on Mackinac Island inside the Grand Hotel, May 13-15.
  • A successful bid for National Qualifiers will result in attending the National Speech and Debate Team Tournament in Louisville, KT, June 12-17.
  • Saline Debaters have competed in five national tournaments in the last ten years.

"Debate has evolved into a wonderful family that I'm so proud to be a part of. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with everyone this season and seeing the growth of every debater, both in their skills and character," said team member Anna Healy, who gave the student speech at the Team Awards Banquet. Healy also shared a fun memory: “during state finals, the host of the awards ceremony was muted on the Zoom call, but everyone thought that my computer was broken, so people were yelling and pressing buttons. It was very chaotic, but looking back, it was hilarious.”

Other fun season memories –

  • Neah Bloch, missing her partner for a competition, decided to compete anyway, or going ‘Mavrick’ and won all four debates at the Pappas Tournament. Although debaters are able to win individual debates, only teams with partners can proceed to the finals. Maverick means that you argue both roles during the debate and is a rare occurrence.
  • Middle Schooler Kate Gilchrest doesn’t like debating in front of team members but loves competing at tournaments.
  • Some team members joined mid-season (half season) due to Fall Sports.
  • The teams had two canine mascots, Pablo and Hazel.

"Three things come to mind when thinking about the team and the class. 1. Debate is a unique activity because it requires communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. 2. Students have told me that they did not know what they were capable of until they gave it a try. 3. I am really honored to be a part of that and of a school who supports it," said Shelly Venema, SHS Head Coach.

“It was fun working with these students and snacks were also a highlight at every meeting – food must fuel great debaters,” shared Mrs. Laura Engelhuber, SMS Head Coach.

The Debate team met on Tuesdays and Fridays in the first half of the year. Individuals continuing to compete will meet as needed in preparation for the upcoming competitions. Debate is a fun, engaging and collaborative group digging into today’s Hot Topics!

High School Team Members:

  • W. Alice Jiang 
  • Neil Sachdeva 
  • James Ulery
  • Neah Bloch 
  • Elizabeth Sandru 
  • Max Watkins
  • Owen Bloch 
  • Sarah Yousif 
  • Annabelle Kwon
  • Michael Gasparovic 
  • Michael Brewer 
  • Angie Ling
  • Carolyn Kwon 
  • Anna Healy 
  • Maggie Robbins
  • Preston Lynn 
  • Spencer Lynn
  • Collin Brophy 
  • Caroline Pangilinan
  • Michael Bryant 
  • Reed Recchia
  • Eva Cueto 
  • Andrew Strong
  • Kiri Diehlman 
  • Alexandra Ulery
  • Mallory Lizotte 
  • Andreanna Ulery

Middle School Team Members:

  • Erica Griffith 
  • Addison Bar 
  • Max Hong
  • Claire Borges 
  • Julianne Saims 
  • Benjamin Holtz
  • Ava Jenkins 
  • Sam Daniels 
  • Gabriel Romero
  • Penny Jones 
  • Kate Gilchrist 
  • Sabine Saldana
  • Alisha Sachdeva 
  • Arjun Sennerikuppam 
  • Henry Lizotte
  • B Miller

Does Debate sound like something intriguing to you? SHS has both Debate and Advanced Debate classes in the first trimester and Public Speaking class in the third trimester, both of which fulfill an English elective (two are needed). These are great options as SHS students consider their 2022-2023 course schedule! Please see Ms. Shelly Venema with any questions that you may have.

About the National Speech & Debate Association
The National Speech & Debate Association was created in 1925 to provide recognition and support for students participating in speech and debate activities. While our organization has evolved over the decades, our mission is more relevant today than ever before. We connect, support and inspire a diverse community committed to empowering students through competitive speech and debate. To learn more, please visit

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