Chagrin Falls High School’s Haines and Mills Crowned Top Debaters in Country

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Finishes careers as the first all-female team to win the National Speech & Debate Association Public Forum Championship since 2007

Four-year Chagrin Falls High School public forum debate partners, seniors Sasha Haines and Maggie Mills won the public forum debate national championship on Friday, June 19.  The National Speech & Debate Association held their weeklong tournament online this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Haines and Mills debated in 16 rounds before advancing to the final round against the team of Erick and Schmitter-Emerson from Campbell Hall School in Los Angeles, California. 

“Haines and Mills have been together from the beginning and have seen as much as any debaters could dream of seeing,” said Advisor Ken Kasee.  

The future trajectory of their debating career was clear almost immediately.  Haines and Mills were the first team in the history of Chagrin Falls High School Debate to qualify for the state tournament as freshmen.  As sophomores, they were semi finalists at the state tournament, (losing in a walk over to their senior teammates who won the tournament) and became the first team from Chagrin Falls to qualify for the prestigious Tournament of Champions held at the University of Kentucky.  As juniors, they again qualified for the Tournament of Champions while breaking again at the state championships.  They put it all together as seniors, qualifying again for the Tournament of Champions, winning the State Championship without dropping a ballot (20-0), and then finishing their career as the first all-female team to win the National Speech & Debate Association Public Forum Championship since 2007.  Winning the final round on a 9-4 decision.

Maggie Mills reflects on her experience:

My senior year was the most fun year of debate yet.   I had always enjoyed debating, but during my senior year, I focused less on winning and more on enjoying myself.  Once I started to think of debate as a fun activity rather than an academic task, my partner and I improved rapidly.  I also spent a lot of time with my teammates and coach, people who have become my second family.  

My experience at nationals was great as well.  We were devastated when we found out that the tournament had been moved online, but once competition began, things ran smoothly.  I was so excited just to have the opportunity to debate at Nationals, let alone do well there.  My coach, Mr. Haber, was with us every step of the way.  I can’t say enough nice things about his generosity and support.  He continued to coach Chagrin Public Forum even after his daughter graduated because he truly believes in the value of the activity.  As a trial attorney, he is probably the most overqualified debate coach in the country, but he always treats coaching like his full-time job.  He has believed in us since our first debate tournament four years ago, and after every loss, he was the first to tell us that we were talented and capable.  Without his support, I think Sasha and I would have quit, or at least would have burnt out and stopped making an effort.

In the weeks leading up to the tournament, we prepped as much as we could.  Once the tournament started, my partner and I decided to focus on enjoying ourselves and having fun, no matter the outcome.  I think that mindset really allowed us to succeed and overcome any residual fear of failure.  

My reaction to winning was obviously one of excitement.  I was ecstatic that we had won and was really proud of what we had accomplished.  The strongest emotion I felt, however, was gratitude.  That sounds a little bit sappy, but honestly, my partner and I would never have succeeded without the unconditional support we received from our coaches, our team, and our friends.  During the tournament, Sasha and I received dozens of texts of encouragement from fellow debaters, especially female ones.  There was an amazing outpouring of support, and the fact that so many people had our backs and were rooting for us really pushed us to persevere right through Round 17.    

Sasha Haines reflects on her experience:

Our final year of debate truly was the best. My partner and I evolved from competing to win to also competing to have fun. The shift in our mindset allowed us not only to enjoy debating, but also alleviate a lot of the stress associated with the activity. Ultimately, I think the shift served as one of the biggest factors in our successes this year. I also found our partnership and our “telepathic powers,” as we often joke,  strengthened in a way that made debating even more enjoyable. Working with someone as intensively as Maggie and I did creates a unique relationship. Though we still have our differences, we found the way in which we think changed in a similar manner, allowing for us to work together more effectively than ever. 

Maggie and I were initially rather upset that the tournament moved to an online format, but soon became very grateful we still had the opportunity to debate. As a result, we went into the tournament with the overarching mindset of gratitude that we were there, allowing us to enjoy the experience. Our coach and friend, Mr Haber and Albi Manfredi, helped with preparation and set up. Without them, we never could have dreamed of making it as far as we did. Their constant support throughout the whole experience made preparing and competing so enjoyable. 

Winning nationals was a very surreal experience. I was in disbelief of the accomplishment at first, but soon those emotions evolved into excitement. Winning felt like more than just getting a trophy, but rather a thank you to all of the people who helped get us to where we are. Though the title is not everything, I was proud to be able to show my friends, family, and community how important and beneficial debate is, and hopefully inspire others to give the activity a try.

Congratulations to Other Team Members:

Mikey King and Eli Shall advanced to the octafinal round in Duo Interpretation and finished in the top 60.  Grace Hoy competed in Dramatic Interpretation.

Special Thanks to Coach Richard Haber:

Through their extensive preparation with their coach Richard Haber, Haines and Mills have achieved a monumental feat. For the past eight years, Rich has voluntarily coached Public Forum debate at Chagrin Falls High School. “Needless to say, it’s not his day job,” said Kasee.  “Simply put, he’s a parent who stepped in when he saw a need for help on the team.” Through the four years his daughter Victoria debated, Haber was there after school for practice and every Saturday coaching, judging, and guiding the debaters.  “Though Victoria graduated four years ago, Rich stayed, and ever since has treated Sasha and Maggie as if they were his own daughters,” said Kasee.  “He’s spent as much time coaching them as anyone conceivably could. His impact on them is unquantifiable. Rich is the sort of person that people don’t think exists anymore: selfless, thoughtful, and unbelievably generous.”

“Sasha and Maggie are truly special young ladies,” said Haber. “I have loved every minute of coaching them and I will miss them more than I can ever say.  I always believed they could challenge for a National Championship, but it was their hard work that made it happen, not mine.  Once they believed, there was no stopping them.” Haber also credited Albi Manfredi, a former nationally-ranked debater and a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania who helped coach the girls with Haber all season. “Albi flew to Chagrin for the tournament. Albi was incredible and deserves a lot of the credit,” said Haber.

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