From beginners to winners: MD Debate Team takes second place


Yin Fei and Jayden Siegel

The Middle Division (MD) Debate team won second place in the Cities Tournament out of 40 teams this past weekend. After debating the pros and cons of U.S. sanctions against China, each member of the team placed in either the novice or intermediate division at the competition.

In the novice division, seven students won gold awards, three students won silver, and two students won bronze. In the intermediate division, two debaters won gold and four won silver. 

Emily Wang (8) said she and her partner received gold because of the amount of speaker points they gained. Most of the debaters also had winning records, which meant that they won two out of three rounds, Wang said. 

Prior to the event, the debaters engaged in one month of intense preparation, during which they carefully conducted research, generated crossfire questions, and formed rebuttals to potential counter arguments. 

The team members prepare mostly independently, Carson Eisner (8) said. Outside of the 45 minute to hour-long sessions led by Upper Division (UD) students, the students conducted the bulk of the writing and research at home.

Eisner and his partner, Gillian Ho (8), spoke on the phone every Saturday leading up to the tournament to work on a case that would ensure victory, he said. 

“This was probably the most prepared Gillian and I have actually been,” Eisner said. “We had written out a complete summary, numerous crossfire questions, and a ton of blocks.”

Blocks are premade sources and arguments that debaters use to respond to the rebuttal of the opposing team. Eisner and Ho ended the tournament with a winning record. 

In school, the students’ preparation involved collaborating with other members of the team by reviewing their arguments and engaging in practice rounds, during which they debated against each other, faculty adviser John Eckels said.

“We worked on practicing our speeches by saying them out loud and giving each other comments,” Nikki Pande (8) said. “We also shared our documents so if one of us had really good pieces of evidence then we could take a look.”

In addition to individual and group work, students received instruction from Upper Division (UD) debate students who held working sessions every Wednesday. During these meetings, the high schoolers advised the MD students on building their cases, both in terms of content and structure, Eckels said.

The UD debaters spent their Wednesday meetings teaching the MD debaters how to improvise and analyze situations as they appear in rounds, said Co-Director of MD Debate Leyli Granmayeh (12). 

“We mostly try to emphasize and teach them how to think on their feet and come up with arguments and feel comfortable with speaking without necessarily having a source that says exactly what they’re saying,” Granmayeh said.

With pre-written responses and rebuttals, the debaters did not have to improvise against some of the more unique arguments that opponents had, Pande said. 

However, students experienced their fair share of challenges while preparing, Naina Mehrotra (8) said.

“I personally had a lot of trouble finding arguments for the pro side, just because there seem to be a lot of negative impacts,” she said.

To resolve this issue, Mehrotra said she spoke to other debaters who each found one or two contentions. “In the end, we were able to find ways to incorporate each others’ research.”

Another unexpected difficulty with this topic specifically was its racial underscore, given the current climate with anti-Asian hate crimes and violence, Eckels said. 

“A large number of our middle school debaters are Asian, and with the announcement of the topic for city and state, there was a lot of potential there for things to go a little awry,” he said. 

However, as far as Eckels is aware, no conflicts ensued, he said. “We did make sure to tell [the debaters] to let their judges know and us, as their coaches, know if something said seemed more like a stereotype, especially if it was targeted at them or attacking their identity.”

Granmayeh was ecstatic at hearing the results of the tournament, she said.

“I know how much time they put in, how much energy and how much research they do so I was not surprised with their results,” Granmayeh said. “I was super proud, especially because this is a difficult tournament where they are competing against other really qualified students.” 

Throughout the tournament, Wang reflected on her improvement and the improvement of her  fellow novice teammates who only started debating this year. 

“I think I speak on behalf of most of the newcomers when we say, before we couldn’t we could barely do a speech properly, but now we can we can we can improvise pretty well and we can we can appear confident to the audience,” Wang said.

One highlight for Eckels was realizing that the students were focusing on why they received the results they did, he said.

“We’ve been working with the middle school debaters all year trying to focus on not just seeing the placement, but also the feedback,” Eckels said.

Currently, the middle schoolers are looking forward to the State Championships next month and are working hard to prepare for the two-day conference.

“The next tournament is going to be an even bigger deal,” Eisner said. “This time, as a school, we got second place, but hopefully in the next tournament we can win first place.”