So, you think we got it all wrong when it came to giving the nods for science (Come on, your kid’s chem class is closing in on that whole cold-fusion thing!), or maybe music (How could we have overlooked your niece’s Tony-worthy solo in Bye Bye Birdie?). Yes, we know they also won for athletics, but here’s why they deserve a second spot: because, when it comes to debate, ironically, there is none, since it’s a scored activity. And among our county’s private schools, the points—and props—go to Iona Preparatory School. The team, which fluctuates between 30 and 40 members, has long excelled, thanks to the guidance of Charles Sloat, the math teacher (and former Iona debater) who’s served as debate coach for 19 years now.
The secret to success? “We meet daily, and at least ten or fifteen of the kids show up,” explains Sloat, who says that two other Iona debate-team alumni help out regularly. “We make sure there’s always someone here to listen to the kids practice.”
And there’s a lot to listen to, indeed. You might think of debate as a few people sparring over political issues, but there’s far more to it. “We’re going to a tournament soon where the kids participate in twenty-nine categories, ranging from poetry to group discussion,” Sloat says. (Of course, there are traditional debates, too, such as Student Congress, in which kids pick apart the merits of current legislative bills and policies. Last year, Iona was third-ranked in Congress in New York.)
If practice has put Iona at the top of the heap, so, too, has its enthusiastic participation in competitions. It pays off: At a recent 65-school event, Iona ranked fourth. And as the fourth-ranked extemporaneous speaker in the country, one student, Gabriel Ferrante, recently competed in Nashville against the twenty-four top-ranked debaters in that category.
Ferrante and the others may find their training will help them go far: “One of our former debaters got a full scholarship to Saint Joseph’s,” Sloat says proudly. It’s the everyday evolution of his kids, though, that gives Sloat his greatest satisfaction. “There have been a lot of kids over the years who, in the beginning, you wouldn’t go, ‘Yeah, that’s someone you want to have speaking in front of an audience,’” he admits. “And then we helped them become accomplished and confident. To watch that kind of progression makes it special.”