The season for speech and debate begins in September, and continues through June; during that period, members of the Hearn Society compete against other schools at more than forty contests, which are held virtually every weekend. Because there is a limit on the number of contestants in most competitions, the team members are rotated: typically, a speaker will participate in two contests per month.
Most contests are held locally, on Saturdays, under the auspices of the New York Catholic Forensic League and the National Forensic League, but the Hearn also participates in a number of national invitational competitions throughout the United States. Most of the society’s members compete in the various categories of speech: extemporaneous speaking (a brief speech on a topic in current events, presented after thirty minutes of preparation), original oratory (a memorized speech, written by the speaker), dramatic interpretation (a memorized presentation of a scene from a play or film), oral interpretation of literature (presentation of selections of prose and poetry, using a script), duo interpretation (a scripted selection performed by two speakers), and declamation (a memorized speech, not written by the speaker).
The category of declamation is restricted to freshmen and sophomores; the other categories are open to all four classes. Approximately forty members of the Hearn devote their time to Lincoln-Douglas debate. In this category, contestants are expected to argue the merits of a proposition of value (e.g. “The public’s right to know outweighs the candidate’s right to privacy”), which is announced a few weeks prior to the competition. Although members compete individually, the debaters prepare for contests by meeting as a group daily, in order to construct affirmative and negative cases.
As with speech, debate contests are held locally on Saturdays throughout the year; contests of the Manhattan Debate League are also held on Friday afternoons. Debate is open to students in all four classes; in many contests, there are three separate divisions to allow for differences in experience and expertise (viz. Varsity, Junior Varsity, and Novice). Team members are chosen by tryouts.