Pair From Howard Win National Debating Contest

July 05, 2009|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,john-john.williams@baltsun.com

Nikitia Datta, 11, did not know what to expect when she headed to San Antonio late last month for the 2009 Middle School National Debate Championship.

Sure she had practiced for hours each week since September, and she knew that she had a passion for debate - especially the rebuttal - but she was still slightly intimidated by the competition.

Datta, a rising seventh-grader at Lime Kiln Middle, and her partner, Viveka Advani, who just completed eighth grade at Burleigh Manor Middle, quickly got over their initial anxiety and became the first Howard County students to win the competition in its 10-year existence.

The duo won the Public Forum Debate category beating the reigning national champions from Lanier Middle School in Houston to win the title.

"It was exciting," Datta said. "When I went there, I didn't expect to win anything. It was intense. The other team almost knew they were going to win. It was tough to go up against a team that thought they were going to win. But we did our best in the debate."

In addition to the championship team, Howard County students also excelled in the Policy Debate category. Srinidhi Muppalla of Burleigh Manor and Niran Lakhanpal of Clarksville Middle tied for third place with Madeleine Houck of Folly Quarter Middle and Vivian Wang of Burleigh Manor. All just completed eighth grade.

Muppalla was named Top Speaker in the Nation, which was also a first for Howard County. He scored 149 out of a possible 150 points to win the title. Wang finished second; Lakhanpal finished fourth; and Houck finished fifth.

The students all belong to Capitol Debate, a nonprofit based in Ellicott City that coaches students in debate techniques and strategies.

"The national champions and the entire team worked extraordinarily hard," said Ronald Bratt, CEO and founder of Capitol Debate. "They did a lot of work and put a lot of effort into this national championship."

The students were advised by Cayman Giordano, the debate coach at Howard High School who also works at Capitol Debate, and Les Phillips, a coach with Capitol Debate.

Datta, who favors the actual debate over the research and writing aspect of the competition, said she plans to defend her title next year. "It's a lot of fun," she said.

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