Hilo’s Cinderella Story

Hilo’s Cinderella Story
Monday Musings by Melinda M.

Back in August, Greg LaLiberte, a Hilo dad and firefighter, and his wife Liz, mom and Hilo High teacher, decided they would get a few curious kids together (including their daughter) and start up Hilo High School’s first public forum debate club. It would be the only one at any Hawaii Island public school with only 1 on-island competitor: Parker School.

Last year, Greg investigated Parker’s team and learned what it takes to put one together and what it takes for students to prep and compete. He didn’t entirely learn what the “season” was or what it might entail but that’s probably because his intentions were modest: get students learning the research and speaking skills that debate requires and maybe have them “scrimmage” against Parker throughout the year.

The team started with about 10 students and after a few weeks dropped to 8. Before their first official competition in February at Parker School, the team was down to five. My daughter was on the team so I saw how difficult the work was. I’d say she did more work for this club, that only met 1-2 times a week, than for most of her classes. It wasn’t “fun” for her in the way that other extracurriculars were, but she could feel herself learning and picking up important life skills so she stuck with it. Until.

Some of the OG with Parker School competitors

Until that first big competition. I think it’s fair to say even the coaches were caught a bit off guard by the intensity of the forum. The students had 4-5 debates a day for two days against public and private schools from across the state, many of which were official after-school clubs that met 5 days a week and provided a class credit. And yet, one of our Hilo teams managed to come out near the top!

What had not been imagined was now a possibility: our kids could do well at the state level.

After that weekend, the club was down to the one team that did well. The season, as it turned out, would go until mid-April and other kids who remained (my daughter included) just didn’t have the stamina to go on.

State Champs!! How’s that?!

So Greg, Liz, their daughter and her teammate rolled up their sleeves and prepared, prepared, prepared — not expecting to do well necessarily, but expecting to gain great experience.

So much for that! After debating 3 times each day for 2 days at Kamehameha Schools Kapalama and once in the finals at Punahou, our young Viking women emerged victorious against the more seasoned teams, beating Punahou in the finals.

What an outstanding victory for Hilo High’s first public debate forum team! And how fortunate we are to have Greg and Liz in our community, investing their personal time and money into our students so they can gain and sharpen important skills that will serve them well in life. Congratulations to everyone involved!!

For more, read the Hawaii Tribune-Herald’s article: http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/news/community/strong-arguments-upstart-hilo-high-debate-club-fares-well-statewide-competition



  1. How exciting! Who doesn’t love a Cinderella Story?! Events like this get added onto my mental list of things that proove one of my guiding principals–one person can make all the difference, either for good or for ill. People like these two make the world a better place, in a real way, for the people around them. I toast them for the many, many hours of effort they put into this endeavor. That is so awesome!


    • I think they will! And hopefully enough students will be willing to endure the hard work debate requires for the long-term payoff of becoming a confident speaker, quick thinker and thorough researcher!


  2. Great write up, Melinda. You hit upon many of the season’s highlights. You’re so right about the rigor of debate and I applaud all our club members for their hard work this season. We have high hopes for next year. We’d like to offer students the opportunity to compete in speech categories such as humorous interpretation in addition to debate. Recruitment will be our top priority. Fund raising will also be a priority. With only two schools competing in debate on the Big Island, travel to Oahu is unavoidable. I wouldn’t mind visiting our neighbor island were it not so costly. To be competitive in both speech and debate, the team will need to travel to Oahu approximately a half dozen times, often times competition scheduling requires that we stay overnight. So I will take this opportunity, which Melinda has generously provided, to put out my hat. First, I ask that you encourage any high schooler students you know to join our club this coming school year. Second, I ask that you consider donating either air miles or money to our club. Thank you for your support. I can be reached at hilospeechanddebate@gmail.com

    Liked by 1 person

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