A debate team from the Westminster Schools in Buckhead completed a unique demonstration of national dominance in May, winning both the award for season-long excellence and the prestigious Tournament of Champions.
New high school graduates Anshu Sathian and Rajesh Jegadeesh, who both live in the Buckhead area, formed the championship team. They entered the Tournament of Champions at the University of Kentucky, arguably the most coveted tournament championship in high school debate, as the nation’s top-ranked team, according to the National Debate Coaches Association. They showed why they held that ranking when they were the only team among the 68 to post a perfect 7-0 record in the preliminary rounds.
Anshu and Rajesh then defeated Chicago’s New Trier High School in the Round of 16, Bishop Guertin High from New Hampshire in the quarterfinals, Damien Prep from Los Angeles in the semifinals and San Francisco’s Bellarmine in the championship match.
Buckhead’s Pace Academy also advanced to the quarterfinals at the Tournament of Champions but lost in that round.
The policy issue up for debate in Kentucky and throughout the debate season was about alternative energy: “The United States federal government should substantially increase alternative energy incentives in the United States.”
In the championship match, Westminster had to argue against Bellarmine’s proposal for a “renewable portfolio standard” that would require utility companies to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources. Westminster counted that clean-coal technology is a better option.
Jenny Heidt, who has coached debate at Westminster for eight years, said the debate season required massive amounts of research. Not only did Anshu and Rajesh have to develop their own proposal, but they had to prepare to respond to any of the 15 to 20 areas within alternative energy that other teams might have focused on.
As the teams competed through the year, they heard one another’s proposals, then refined their arguments to counter them. “A premium is placed on evolution,” Heidt said of the changing arguments through the year. “These are very bright, competitive high school students. They scout each other and prepare all year long.”
Both Anshu and Rajesh have Emory University professors as fathers. Rajesh will attend Emory in the fall, while Anshu is going to Yale University. Both are also working with Heidt at the University of Michigan’s seven-week summer debate institute.
As the first Indian-American teammates to win the Tournament of Champions, Anshu and Rajesh garnered international attention, including an article last month in the Times of India newspaper. Anshu is originally from Chennai, and Rajesh comes from Tanjore.
They were the second Westminster team to win the Tournament of Champions under Heidt. The team of Anusha Deshpande and Stephen Weil won the tournament in 2005, and Stephen and Anshu teamed up in 2007 to reach the championship debate before losing.
The 2007 team won the National Debate Coaches Association’s Baker Award as the best team over the course of the debate season, Heidt said, but only this year’s partnership of Anshu and Rajesh managed the double of winning the Baker Award and the Tournament of Champions.
Heidt cited several factors in the long-term success of debate at Westminster. “We have good support from the school. The team has a really good work ethic.”
While Anshu and Rajesh have left Westminster, Heidt has reason for optimism. She has the team that ranked fifth in the 2009 Baker Award standings, Ellis Allen and Daniel Taylor, returning as juniors in the fall.
— Michael Jacobs