By Maddy Baxter
Four of last year’s most successful national debaters have joined the Harvard-Westlake coaching staff. The new coaches include Ben Sprung-Keyser ’11, Jake Sonnenberg ’11, Josh Roberts and Marshall Thompson. They work with students via Skype, email and conference calls and attend tournaments.
Sprung-Keyser and Sonnenberg participated on the Harvard-Westlake team. Sonnenberg now debates in policy at Stanford University. As opposed to the moral and ethical dilemmas argued in high school, he debates topics more related to foreign policy and international relations. Sprung-Keyser continues to debate at Harvard University.
“I love debate,” Sonnenberg said. “I care a lot about the kids and want to help them succeed. My favorite thing is when they do well on their own because of something they thought of and did through their own creativity and thinking.”
Roberts graduated from Northland Christian School in Houston last year, where he debated for four years. As a senior, he won several tournaments, including Grapevine, the Bronx Round Robin, Glenbrooks and the Victory Briefs Tournament, and was the National Champion last year. He now attends Pepperdine University and has chosen to coach rather than continue debating.
“A lot of my friends went to Harvard-Westlake and still do.” he said. “I wanted to stay involved.”
Roberts’ responsibility is to ensure that students are researched in what they are arguing. He does online research and attends practices and tournaments.
Thompson attended Walt Whitman High school in Bethesda, Md., and is now a student at Wheaton College in Illinois. He debated for four years and won the Greenhill Invitational, the Bronx Invitational and the Montgomery Bell Academy Round Robin.
“Harvard-Westlake fits the talents I have to offer the most,” he said.
Thompson and Sonnenberg help debaters with drills and philosophical ideas and attend tournaments every few months.
“I enjoy attending tournaments with the opportunity to work in person with the kids,” Thompson said.
Thompson debates a bit in college, but much less intensively, practicing once a week for an hour.
“They’re all super helpful,” Annie Kors ’14 said of the coaches. “I think we get a lot of help from them when they are writing the materials we use in each debate round.”