Ethics team wins national spirit award


Photo courtesy of Cheryl Nahmias.

In just their first year of competition, Decatur’s Ethics Bowl team won the Bob Ladenson Spirit of the Ethics Bowl Award at the National High School Ethics Bowl (NHSEB) on April 5-7. They won one match and lost three.

Although the all-senior team failed to move on to the quarterfinals, they had already won the West Georgia region (Feb. 2) and the online playoff match (March 6) against a North Florida team to secure their spot as one of 24 teams in the national bowl.

All three losses came through split decisions, where two out of the three judges voted for the other team. In their second Saturday match, only the slimmest margin separated them from the eventual champions, Jesuit High School.

IB Coordinator Cheryl Nahmias received a letter in the mail about NHSEB in August 2018. She immediately thought Decatur could field an excellent team.

“When I saw [Ethics Bowl] and I saw what skills were required, I thought I could just throw a rock and hit ten kids in the hallway on any given day and make a team,” Nahmias said.

Senior team member Maria Baez also sees Decatur students as uniquely prepared for Ethics Bowl.

“IB, I feel, is so well-equipped to make you good at something like [Ethics Bowl],” Baez said. “I think we take it for granted, but we practice Socratic Seminars [in the class], and I think those skills transfer well.”

“You’re reading these complicated, substantive cases, and you’re working with the other team to come to the best answer,” Nahmias said. “It’s not going in with a hammer to beat people; it’s meant to be this in-depth, intellectual exercise.”

Nahmias’ husband, Georgia State Chair of Philosophy Eddy Nahmias, joined as a co-coach.

Seniors Kati Hash, Gillian McClennen, Lucas Meyer-Lee, and Lucas Nahmias joined Baez on the team. In December, they started meeting every Wednesday night for dinner and practice at the Nahmias’ house.

An Ethics Bowl match consists of two teams arguing positions on two different pre-researched cases in front of three judges (see infographic for step-by-step function of a match). During the presentation portion of the match, most teams will incorporate comments from all team members. The Decatur team, on the other hand, decided to have a primary researcher for each case. This method, while effective, did not demonstrate as much collaboration, one element Cheryl Nahmias thinks led to their losses at the National Bowl.

(from left) Eddy and Cheryl Nahmias coached seniors Maria Baez, Gillian McClennen, Lucas Meyer-Lee, and Lucas Nahmias at the National High School Ethics Bowl. Photo courtesy of Lucas Nahmias.

Next year, she plans to recruit younger students and change strategy.

“Knowing what we know now, what it takes to prevail, I feel confident that we would be in the quarterfinals next year,” Cheryl said.

Although she won’t be on the team next year, Baez loved the collaborative and intellectual elements of Ethics Bowl.

“Even though we might not have gone as far as we had wanted, there are still so many other valuable life skills to gain: learning about the prevalent issues of our time and trying to formulate what will be the best solution,” she said.