WEST LOOP — It's fair to say that these high schoolers know a lot more about health care than the average adult.
"We've been working on this for three weeks," said Lane Tech College Prep senior Ayesha Patel, who made it to the final round to take on the team from Whitney Young.
There are 1,070 students who participate in the Chicago Debate League, said Les Lynn, the organization's programming director. They represent 45 high schools participating at 31 events held throughout the year.
One of those events is the Public Debates on the U.S. Economy. Now in its fourth year, that competition requires debaters to grasp entirely different topics than are required in the other 30 events, which are focusing on Latin American issues this school year.
Friday's and Saturday's competition required 10 pairs of debaters representing some of the best debate teams in the city to study two big topics: the state of the American manufacturing sector and the economic impact of the Affordable Care Act.
After preliminary rounds on Friday, two more debates were held Saturday. In the third-place match, Walter Payton College Prep, which argued that manufacturing wasn't in fact dying in the United States, eked out a victory over Northside College Prep.
Each team of two is given 18 minutes of speaking time to make their case. The time allotment includes a chance to make an opening argument, cross-examine the opposing team's argument, rebut the opposing team's argument and make a closing statement.
The Public Debates are unlike other debates in the league not only in topic, but in that it gives students access to corporate leaders, including Rich Berg, CEO of Performance Trust, the financial firm that was the event's main sponsor.
"This event gives the student access to life advice and pre-professional skills from the corporate world," Lynn said.
The championship round featured Patel's Lane Tech team and defending champs Whitney Young Magnet High School.
Ultimately, Whitney Young defended their title in a unanimous decision as the judges were impressed by their argument that Obamacare was detrimental for the American economy.
The other six schools participating in the event were Schurz High School, Phoenix Military Academy, Morgan Park High School, Lindblom Math and Science Academy, Bogan High School and Kennedy High School.
Jeron Dastrup, a Whitney Young senior, was named the tournament's best speaker, said the debate team and tournaments like the Public Debates helped him become a better, more focused student.
"I probably would've coasted through school and have taken it as seriously," Dastrup said. "Debate's made it so that I focus on research. I used to be the student they put empty desks around."