2020 Matthew Harris Ornstein Outstanding Debater Award Winner: Dennis Martinez

Our Summer Debate Institute (in partnership with the Matthew H. Ornstein Memorial Foundation) is named after Matthew Harris Ornstein, a young man who found his voice, his confidence, and a home in the debate community. One of his favorite experiences was his time at summer debate institutes while a debater at Georgetown Day School. He passed away five years ago, and his parents, Norm Ornstein and Judy Harris founded the Matthew H Ornstein Memorial Foundation to support Matthew's passion for debate, and to advocate for mental health resources.

Each year, in addition to competitive trophies, a single award is given out at the Ornstein Summer Debate Institute, the Ornstein Outstanding Debater Award. This award is designed to recognize the student that most exemplifies Matthew's memory, demonstrating growth and leadership, sportsmanship and humor, as well as competitive excellence.

This year, we had an array of highly talented nominees:

  • Nifemi Abass, CMIT

  • Ajibola Ajani, Benjamin Tasker

  • Aisha Bah, Roosevelt

  • Liv Birnstad, Capital City

  • Zahra Dinkins, Stuart Hobson

  • Sheridan Easterling, Washington Latin

  • Beyance James, Northwestern

  • William Lightfoot, College Park Academy

  • Dennis Martinez, Northwestern

This year's winner: Dennis Martinez, Northwestern High School

Dennis, who was a finalist last year, is a Senior at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville. He started debating as a sophomore, going immediately to the Junior Varsity Division. With his partner Alexa, they frequently won trophies and eventually won 1st Place in the JV Division at Districts in his first year of debate.

Despite sometimes being the only debaters from their school at a tournament, Dennis and Alexa debated in the Varsity Division last year and attended some travel tournaments in New York and Pennsylvania. They have emerged as one of the teams to beat this year, despite not having a very large team.

Earlier this summer, Dennis was in the final elimination round of the Georgetown Debate Seminar's Tournament, but Dennis has shown that he isn't only a talented competitor. Dennis impressed me with his leadership skills, actively recruiting a number of other students to attend the summer institute, and providing logistical and moral support for his team-mates. He has a strong work ethic, easily incorporates feedback and learns from his mistakes, and is mature beyond his years.

Dennis is interested in debating in college and studying Political Science. Georgetown and Emory are some schools that have stood out to him so far as he begins his college search.

From his former coach, Maggie Ryan:

I have spent the morning reflecting on if I was at all biased in this decision as his former coach, but I think Dennis has proven himself to be the most hardworking and dedicated debater specifically in our lab. He has constantly taken advantage of Q&As with guest speakers, improved his speaking skills, and contributed to our enjoyable lab dynamic. Dennis constantly volunteers to try new things, openly accepts criticism and is never afraid to crack a joke when needed.

From some of his fellow lab members and other staff members:

"Dennis is always asking questions, super curious about new arguments. he's also willing to help if asked but not really going out of his way to help everyone. He's definitely really good tho"

"I'll shout out Dennis especially, he's been super engaging w/ everyone. He's especially been good helping his partner, Joey."

"Dennis has clearly grown a lot this summer. He's so hungry, always asking the best questions, leading the discussions, and is a big contributor to the research our lab did this summer, including helping others complete their assignments."

Winners of the Matthew Harris Ornstein Outstanding Debater Award

2015: Keoni Scott-Reid, Largo High School Passed Away in 2019

2016: Demetrius Sadler, Banneker High School University of Rochester

2017: Jonathan Collins, DuVal High School Harvard University

2018: Asha Verma, Kenmoor Middle School Roosevelt High School

2019: Munyang Tengen, Bowie High School Howard University

2020: Dennis Martinez, Northwestern High School TBD

Featured Posts
Recent Posts