This one is actually a big deal for Marco Island Academy, which is making a habit of getting national attention. From April 20 to 22, the intrepid MIA Ethics Bowl team surged to a sixth place finish in the National High School Ethics Bowl (NHSEB) finals at the University of North Carolina. Putting this in perspective, the competition began in January with 480 teams formed from almost 5,000 high school students from across the country. Twenty-four of those teams made it to the finals. The MIA team had emerged as winners in the January 27 Florida regionals and joined 23 other teams who were chosen to compete in the finals (See “MIA Ethics Bowl Team Best in State” at coastalbreezenews.com).
UNC takes this stuff seriously and has devoted a whole building for the study and propagation of ethics into the mainstream of college and high school education curricula. “This is our sixth year of staging the NHSEB,” said Director Dr. Dominique Dery, “It was easily our largest one.” The NHSEB championships for both college and high school teams take place at the Parr Center for Ethics in Caldwell Hall on UNC’s campus at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It was in this building where the MIA team covered itself in glory. According to Dr. Dery, the performance of each team is judged on the basis of how “clearly, articulately, and perceptively the students develop their positions, their ability to communicate respectfully and collaboratively, and their willingness to take diverse viewpoints into account.” One can only imagine what the world would be like if this gospel should take hold.
The MIA team arrived at Chapel Hill on Friday, April 20, when all 24 teams in the national competition were feted at a banquet sponsored by NHSEB. The playoffs began the next day with the winner to be determined on Sunday. In the first round, all 24 teams were to play four matches against randomly selected opponents. On Saturday afternoon, MIA won its first three matches, one coming against an all boys’ team from CT. They were flushed with victory and dazzled by what they had accomplished. “We celebrated by singing ‘Woman’ by Kesha (Remember that all boys team) and ‘All I Do is Win’ by DJ Khaled while traveling back to our hotel,” said team member, Caitlin Carlson.
On Sunday morning their luck didn’t hold in the fourth match of round one. Although getting votes from two of the three judges, this match was called a tie. MIA was taking a record of 3-0-1 into the quarter finals (the final eight teams). The judges rewarded the team, however, with an elevation to a third seed in the quarter finals, which would be held after lunch. “This by far, beat our expectations of how we were going to do,” said Carlson, “because we knew that the competition was going to be extremely prepared and well thought out.”
MIA drew sixth seeded, Glendora, California High School (student pop 2,597) whom they had tied on Saturday. Glendora also had an all-girls team. “The teams were given two cases to discuss,” Carlson said, “ ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ which was about a Jewish man in the time of the Holocaust deciding if he should leave his family and use a visa to go to the United States or be there for his family and join them when they were taken to the concentration camps. The other case discussed was called ‘Feminist Choice,’ which was about a female’s obligation to the feminist movement and whether she should be a stay at home mom or go to law school.”
Like the first match it was closely contested. “We knew it would be close,” Carlson said, “Unfortunately the judges decided to give the win to [Glendora]. Although disappointing, we knew that this whole weekend was extremely successful and that we should be proud of ourselves.”
“It was one of our strongest matches,” Coach Chris Liebhart said, “We lost by only a couple points.” Glendora later lost in the semi-finals and ended up third overall. MIA had dropped to sixth, barely out of the money. Walking off with national honors was Kent Place School, from Summit, New Jersey, a self-described elite girls’ private school, with a high school enrollment of 290.
MIA has come a long way since they had started practicing last fall. From an obscure unranked public charter high school they had risen to the rarified atmosphere of a #3 seed among the cream of the crop of intellectually elite teams from across the nation. MIA went head to head with the best of the best, and came within a whisker of beating them all. Their final permanent FHSEB ranking of #6 out of the 180 teams that competed was a major achievement for MIA. Their record at the finals went into the books at 3-1-1 – not bad for a small public school of less than 230 students in only its seventh year of existence.
Math teacher, Chris Liebhart is the mentor and coach for MIA’s Ethics Bowl team. (He is also the head baseball coach and assistant coach on three other varsity teams.) Known as “Lieb” to his students, he presides over his classes in a t-shirt, cargo shorts, and bare feet. He is beloved by his students, and in only his second year at MIA, has succeeded in bringing out the best in a remarkable group of girls. He is justifiably pleased. “I could not have been more proud of not only the way they performed, but the way they conducted themselves throughout the competition,” Liebhart said. “The way they represented MIA could not have been better.”
“We were definitely having the most fun,” Liebhart said, “We were loose, fun-loving, and definitely just enjoyed the experience, [whereas] other teams and coaches were very nervous, serious and uptight.” Some of the coaches commented to Liebhart on how much fun the team was having. Only a supremely confident team could have acted this way when all the chips were on the table.
The spectacular finish of the team also vindicated the decision of MIA Principal Melissa Scott in bringing the ethics bowl to MIA three years ago. She has been unstinting in her support of the program and her efforts have resulted in bringing the directors on board. As a result, the EB program has been getting the fullest possible support from the school. This support eliminated a lot of stress for the team, when it enabled the team to fly up to Chapel Hill and stay at the nearby Sheraton Hotel while there. (Most of the incidental expenses were privately paid for by the chaperones.) This program was Principal Scott’s baby from the start. Now, in just three years, she has seen it mature into one of the top programs in the nation. Heady stuff!
When the final results came in Scott was overwhelmed. “I cannot tell you how proud I am of this team,” she said, “We are so young and fresh… and we fight. We fight every day to be heard, recognized, and supported; and we make our mark. This young team of outstanding women never stopped fighting. And they made it to Nationals and ranked in the top ten… amazing and outstanding… And led by an instructor that allows them to believe in themselves. This is what makes him so special. He sees the best in his students and just allows them to be.”
This has been a recurring theme with Scott. No instructor will ever get into hot water with her as long as they help their students to be the best they can be.
My thanks to Caitlin Carlson, who’s insights were invaluable.