State debate tournament takes place online

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Submitted by Vincent Cheng

Debate students in a tournament earlier in the year. The biggest change to the tournament, like most activities this year, was the transition to an online format. “Last year, at the state tournament, it was really nice talking to people from other schools. I actually made a couple close friends that I still keep in contact with. This year, it felt a lot more isolated, although I did get to hang out with the coaches and Maya, Henry, and Jack,” junior Spencer Burris-Brown said.

The 2021 State Debate Tournament brought growth, challenges, and friendship for 9th grader Henry Hilton, sophomore Maya Sachs, and juniors Spencer Burris-Brown and Jack Hlavka who competed. This year’s tournament took place the weekend of Jan. 15-16. Teams debated on whether or not the National Security Agency should end its surveillance of US citizens and lawful permanent residents.
Juniors Spencer Burris-Brown and Jack Hlavka competed in the state tournament for the second time this year. They won four and lost two of their rounds in the preliminary bracket and lost in the quarter finals.
9th grader Henry Hilton and sophomore Maya Sachs competed in the state tournament for the first time. They spent the first semester competing as novice debaters, but were offered the chance to compete at state by debate coach Vincent Cheng to gain experience for next year. Hilton and Sachs won one round and lost four.
“It was a little intimidating because I realized some of the skills I was able to do well with in novice weren’t enough to actually win a round in Varsity. But I learned so much just in the past month or two. Henry and I learned a ton just from debating Spencer and Jack in practice rounds because they’re some of the best debaters in the state,” Sachs said.
The biggest change to the tournament, like most activities this year, was the transition to an online format. While Sachs and Hilton joined debate for the first time this year, Burris-Brown and Hlavka both attended the tournament last year in-person.

It was a little intimidating because I realized some of the skills I was able to do well with in novice weren’t enough to actually win a round in Varsity. ”

— sophomore Maya Sachs

“Last year, at the state tournament, it was really nice talking to people from other schools. I actually made a couple close friends that I still keep in contact with. This year, it felt a lot more isolated, although I did get to hang out with the coaches and Maya, Henry, and Jack,” Burris-Brown said.
“[Competing online] is all I’ve ever done, so it’s kind of the norm for me. I feel like honestly it probably wouldn’t be any different than in-person except you’re not in a physical space. It’s nice to just be in your room the entire day, but also not nice at the same time. Definitely by the end of the day you have a big headache, and you’re extremely drained from looking at a screen for a long time,” Hilton said.
Despite the physical isolation and some technical difficulties, maintaining a collaborative and friendly environment in online debate has been a success.
“In between rounds at tournaments, this wasn’t specific to state but throughout the semester, we would have a prep room where we could all just joke about our rounds and talk about random things like politics or whatever was going on. That was really fun because I got to know a lot of people from a lot of different grades. We all bonded over debating for the first time,” Sachs said.
Another benefit of debate tournaments taking place online is accessibility.
“For a lot of the national circuit tournaments, if you want to go to them you’re paying $300 for a flight, $150 per night for a hotel, about $100 registration fee, and it’s so unreasonable for a vast majority of the competition. Competing online has shown me that there are actually ways that tournaments can do things that include a more broad array of socioeconomic statuses,” Burris-Brown said.
Burris-Brown and Hlavka will be participating in several tournaments throughout Jan. and Feb. and the national debate tournament in June.