Sylvana Widman, ‘20
National Circuit high school debate is a world unlike any other. Schools all up and down the East Coast, and some from California, venture out to the most competitive speaking tournaments around to do what they were made for – dressing up in green pants and three piece suits to discuss the value of national sovereignty and/or read aloud at ungodly speeds about why following the rules of debate isn’t important. Doing well at National Circuit means, aside from becoming the most popular teen at one’s high school, a chance to compete at the “TOC”, or Tournament of Champions, in Kentucky. To kick off regents week, our favorite ragtag team of misfits, members of the BHSEC debate team, straggled on a Friday afternoon from the Lower East Side to the campuses of Barnard and Columbia university uptown to talk the talk.
The topic was “Resolved: Spain should grant Catalonia its independence,” and there to fight for what they probably didn’t believe in were our teams of Maya Rubin (Y1) and Sofia Rodas (Y2), Gaia Moisan (10th) and Sylvana Widman (10th) (though reluctant to appear self-aggrandizing, I took the liberty of writing this article for the greater good of journalism), and relative newcomers to national circuit, Declan Gunn (9th) and Max Eastwood (9th).
National circuit debate tournaments are long. In three days each debate team of two is expected to argue six preliminary rounds (two on the first day, four on the second). If a team wins four or more of these initial rounds, they move on to eliminations – one lost round and your team is out. After the last preliminary round comes triple-octafinals, double-octafinals, octafinals, quarterfinals, etc. Out of the 115 debating pairs, only 64 teams reach eliminations. But with the help of sheer grit, determination and some trusty snacks, BHSEC debate advanced where no Bardvark had ever gone before. Feisty upstarts Declan and Max came away with a tied 3-3 record. The teams of Maya and Sofia as well as Sylvana and Gaia advanced to eliminations. Maya and Sofia triumphed as double-octafinalists. Gaia and Sylvana emerged quarterfinalists, doing well enough to get a “bid” (two bids = fully qualified for TOC) and halfway to Tournament of Champions.
Debate sounds pretentious – there’s enough jargon thrown around in debate discourse to make any novice PF debater’s head swim. Strip away that linguistic shell, though, and you’ll find the fundamental value of debate – learning about the world around you and building on that knowledge and your personal knowledge immeasurably by talking through every side of the issue at hand. The BHSEC debate team was started by passionate students and keeps thriving through passionate students. This isn’t an advertisement for debate (though if you were interested our Gofundme link is on my Facebook), but the debate team’s doors are always open on Tuesdays after school in room 306 for those passionate to learn more about themselves, their country, and their world.