May 8, 2020 — Northfield Mount Hermon recently won first place in a public-speaking tournament that almost didn’t happen.
The tournament, which NMH traditionally hosts every spring, was cancelled when schools closed to reduce risk of the spread of COVID-19. NMH Debate Society members quickly pivoted and began planning an online tournament. On May 3, NMH became the first school in the Debate Association of New England Independent Schools (DANEIS) league to host a virtual tournament.
Debate coach Peter Weis ’78 said the tournament, which included five other schools besides NMH, was made possible by “the zeal and determination of NMH Debate Society officers.”
“The real thanks for the success of this event goes to senior Daniil Ozernyi, who ran the Zoom breakout rooms, and designed and managed the scoresheets and the tabulation. Without him, this tournament would not have happened,” Weis said.
Ozernyi said the virtual tournament was not without its glitches. “Delivering a speech online is drastically different from doing so in real life. While we tried to minimize the difference and possible perils, we know that this experience was very new and, perhaps, more frustrating for both judges and speakers. However, I know that they enjoyed it.”
NMH and Buckingham, Browne and Nichols swept seven of the top eight places overall, with Flo Auerbach ’20 finishing second, a single point behind the first-place winner. Auerbach won both the “After Dinner” and “Impromptu” speaking events, and Rebecca Birnbach ’22 finished second in After Dinner. Ivan Solzhenitsyn ’21 tied for third in “Interpretive Reading,” but slipped to fourth on a tiebreaker. The fourth member of the NMH team, Soph Mitchell ’22, finished well enough in every round to finish as the third-place NMH speaker, far enough ahead of BB&N’s third place to allow NMH to win its own tournament for the second year in a row.
Auerbach, president of the NMH Debate Society, said the tournament was bittersweet. “I don’t know how to fully express my disappointment that our season ended so abruptly, but I am proud of what we’ve done,” she said. Earlier this year, Auerbach qualified for the World Individual Debate and Public Speaking Championships this spring in Shanghai — now canceled.
Weis acknowledged Auerbach and the other debaters who are graduating this year. “This was not the way the seniors wanted to go out, but they did so with a bang. They’ve made this year one of the most memorable in society history.”