State Stories

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Belvidere North High School Student Johnathon Giesecke Named IHSA Nominee For NFHS Heart of the Arts Award

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Belvidere North High School Student Johnathon Giesecke is the 2018-19 IHSA nominee for the NFHS Heart of the Arts Award and has been named the NFHS winner for Section 4:


The thought of public speaking can be a daunting task for anyone, let alone a teenager. It would appear to be the opposite for Johnathon Giesecke (right), based on the litany of awards and achievements the senior has accrued in his debate career at Belvidere North High School.

The senior’s debate resume includes nearly 30 different accolades representing qualifications or Top 10 or better finishes at local, state and national debate competitions.

“I love debate because it has taught me how to communicate effectively, be a better writer and a more articulate person,” said Johnathon. “But am I also a competitor, so the best part is definitely getting a trophy.”

He jokes that his grandma pushed him toward debate as a freshman at Belvidere North because in her words, ‘he already argues enough’.

Kidding aside, Johnathon had a very real obstacle in his path toward simply participating in debate, let alone excelling at it. He was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, a nervous system disorder that often causes repetitive movements or unwanted sounds, in second grade.

“There was a stigma with my Tourette Syndrome in middle school, kids could be mean about it, so there was a social impact,” said Johnathon. “In the classroom, it was also sometimes more difficult to focus, so it made developing my organizational skills that much more important.”

As a result of Tourette Syndrome, Johnathon’s main symptoms included tics where he would often involuntarily add words to sentences, in addition to hand gestures and rolling his eyes. His debate coach Nicole Kroepel recalls that early in his debate career, he would often add the word “here” into sentences when he was debating.

“Tourette’s didn’t impact me as much socially by the time I reached high school, but it was more significant in debate,” said Johnathon. “It can make speaking very difficult. Nerves and stress make it worse and it causes me to start to skim or not stop to add punctuation when I am speaking. You can almost feel your brain going faster.”

Admittedly, Johnathon is not the most natural public speaker and his Tourette Syndrome symptoms are agitated when he is under stress or pressure, common traits in the midst of a debate competition.

“I noticed the ticks when he was a freshman, but he didn’t tell me about it right away,” said Belvidere North debate coach Nicole Kroepel. “He never tried to use it as an excuse or a crutch. Knowing him better now, it was because he wasn’t going to let his disability define him. He never lets it get in his way.”

While his courage is inspiring, Johnathon’s passion for debate is equally impressive, especially as it relates to this award. Kroepel best sums up Johnathon by saying:

“He is not the most naturally gifted speaker I have coached, nor was he a natural for debate. He set himself apart in his desire to get better and willingness to work at it. He always wants to be better…better than the last round…better than the last tournament…better than the last season…better than the last year. He has an indominable spirit.”

Johnathon reflected on his own experiences with debate, saying:
“I was just lucky to have a coach (Nicole Kroepel) willing to work tirelessly with me to help overcome and improve. I always hated talking about Tourette Syndrome. I didn’t want people to look at me different or change their perception of me, but I have learned that being different is ok. Be proud of what makes you unique and embrace what makes you different.”