The Art of Rhetoric: BHSEC’s Debate Team

Ifeoluwa Aiyelabowo, ’15

The BHSEC Speech and Debate Team was founded by BHSEC alum Hannah Frishberg in the second semester of 2011, and is currently led by juniors Isaiah Back-Gaal, Mojique Tyler, and Gabe Haddad.

BHSEC Debate is an amazing and diverse team that has discussed political topics such as nuclear proliferation, NSA surveillance and immigration reform. On a yearly basis, the team debates against our sister schools BHSEC Queens and BHSEC Newark at “Big Bard.” The trip is entirely funded by Bard College, and many BHSEC debaters have found it to be a very enjoyable experience. The Debate Team is student-run, and has been winning numerous awards at recent tournaments. Currently, the team is the most academic-award-winning team at BHSEC.  For example, earlier this year at tournament headed by the New York City Urban Debate League, the team won second place (just behind Brooklyn Tech), and beating out many other teams, some of which are considered to be some of the best teams in America.

The majority of tournaments that BHSEC debaters go to are held by the New York City Urban Debate League at the Institute of Collaborative Education (ICE). Such tournaments are held on a monthly basis, and they give BHSEC debaters the opportunity to qualify for the City, State, and National Debate Tournaments. So far, the farthest that BHSEC debaters have gone was to the qualifiers for the State Debate Tournament. It was there that Y1s Eliza Fawcett and Isaiah Back-Gaal won the club’s first semifinalist award.

At the weekly meetings, on the third floor, BHSEC debaters prepare the resolutions that are introduced on a monthly basis to most teams in America by the National Forensics League, the national overseer of most debating teams in America. Many high schools in America have numerous debating styles that students do according to their desire. BHSEC’s debating team, however, only does the “Public Forum” style of debate. In this style of debate, two teams of pairs argue against each other in a series of half-an-hour rounds.

In Public Forum debate, one team supports the resolution, and the other team negates the resolution. After one student from each team speaks, they clash in a crossfire, where they ask each other questions. After all students speak and clash in crossfires, all speakers clash in a grand crossfire. Then, members of each team present final focuses and a summaries, where students can rebuild the points that have been refuted, point out any of their own points which have been dropped, or state anything else that would move their judge to vote for them. If the judge votes for them, then there is an increased chance for that team to win a top-team award. The judge also records the amount of speaker points that each member of the team gains, which determines whether the individual members on the teams will win a speaker award. For every debate tournament, student pairs have to prepare pro and con cases for the resolution. Debaters do not know what side they are going to debate on until the rounds of the tournament start.

Even though debating is very tiring, it is also very fun and beneficial. Many students join the BHSEC Debate Team because it is a good thing to have on one’s college résumé, but others join because they want to learn skills that could help them in the future. In fact, half of the politicians in the U.S. government — Supreme Court Justices Sonya Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, for example — were on their school debate teams. Many others like former South African president Nelson Mandela, former President Bill Clinton, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, actor Brad Pitt, and multibillionaire Oprah Winfrey refined their speaking skills early on, thanks to their high school or college debate teams. 

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