MD Public Forum Debate team attends New York City Urban League tournament

Ella Shaham, Contributing Writer

Members of the Middle Division (MD) debate team participated in the virtual 2022 New York City Urban Debate League (NYCUDL) Middle School High School (MSHS) 4 tournament last Saturday about whether the United States Federal Government should raise the minimum wage to $15 for all workers.

“This tournament was a good experience and it went pretty well,” Kevin Cheng (8) said. Cheng won second place with his partner Michael Ji (8).

“I was really nervous at first,” Emily Tarlowe (8) said. “My heart was beating so fast. After the first round, I was so much more calm and I thought it was actually pretty fun. It was a really good first tournament for me,” she said. Tarlowe won 15th place with her partner Ava Nikitiadis (8).

Before the tournament, teams spent significant time preparing, Cheng said. “I did most of my preparation over the winter break,” he said. “Mainly what I worked on with my partner was getting our case ideas down on paper and really fleshing them out. We also developed possible counterarguments.”

The teams’ preparation ultimately helped them to succeed, Ji said. “We found a common piece of evidence that the other side would likely use, so we found another piece of evidence that disproved their point,” he said. “They had a really strong point, but using what we had prepared, we proved them wrong and won that round.”

Teams spent the week leading up to the tournament preparing and fine-tuning their arguments in school and with the help of Upper Division (UD) debate members, Cheng said. “Going into this tournament, I was a little nervous, but the high schoolers did a great job at critiquing and helping me go through my arguments,” he said. “They showed me where pieces of my arguments could be used in a different way or made more clear.”

Nikitiadis was appreciative of the help from the UD members. “On Thursday after school, we met privately with two high schoolers to go over our case and practice,” Nikitiadis said. “It was especially helpful because I hadn’t done a tournament in a while, so it was nice to get more comfortable before we were in the actual tournament.”

Tarlowe also thought the meetings with the UD members were useful, she said. “I was really nervous at that point and [meeting with the UD members] definitely calmed me down. It was a good opportunity to make sure I really understood what we were going to do in the tournament,” Tarlowe said.

Megumi Iwai-Louie (11) is one of the MD Debate Directors. Before tournaments, she helps facilitate one-on-one time between MD partnerships and MD associates to help the teams prepare, she said. “It’s important that they get individualized time to ask specific questions and carefully go over their cases,” Iwai-Louie said. “Being able to see the MD associates assume mentorship positions to work together with the MD debaters and develop relationships is super heartwarming. I couldn’t be happier with how things have been going.” 

These one-on-one meetings only began about a month ago, MD associate Joann Yu (10) said. “We teach [the MD debaters] the fundamentals of debate as well as topic-specific information depending on what the topic is in their upcoming tournament,” she said. “They have tournaments once a month, and the topic doesn’t always change. We also research and write cases for them to use.”

“Even though the high schoolers wrote the cases for us, we did a lot of our own research, too,” Tarlowe said “I learned so much about the topic of raising the minimum wage that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

Ji and Cheng constructed their own case entirely, Ji said. “We built the whole case together, but it was mainly me asking questions because Kevin has much more experience. He guided me through building a case and it paid off in the end,” he said.

Nikitiadis assumed a similar role with Tarlowe. “It was her first time, so I was able to help her through the process and guide her through what she didn’t know,” she said.

Although Cheng and Ji ended up winning all three of their rounds, it was not without challenges. In their first round, Cheng’s team miscalculated a statistic that they used for one of their arguments. “The opponent pointed it out and we had to drop the whole argument. By then it was way too late in the round to bring up another argument, so it was a bit stressful,” he said.

Tarlowe and Nikitiadis also had moments of uncertainty during the tournament. “There was one time during crossfire that was very stressful when our opponent asked us a question that was very complicated, so it was hard to respond. I don’t think the judge was particularly satisfied with our answer,” Nikitiadis said. “As the day went on, we got a better understanding of how we debate together and we were more comfortable with our arguments.”

Cheng has experience with prior tournaments both in-person and online because he started debating at the school two years ago and four years ago outside of school, he said. The online format is different from in-person tournaments because you have to deal with internet issues and speak with different emphasis, he said. “Tournaments online have done a good job at preserving the competitive spirit of debate,” Cheng said.

Ji began debate at the beginning of this year. “I haven’t been to any in-person tournaments, so I don’t know if [being online] makes a big impact,” he said. “I don’t see a big problem with it and it went pretty smoothly.”

The online format created issues for Tarlowe, she said. She found it difficult to jump between different Zooms for each section of the tournament, she said. “In our third round, the judge didn’t show up because they had the wrong link. They had to get a new judge so the round ended up starting a whole hour late.”

“Zoom is always tricky. On the tournament day and the days leading up to it, I try to help deal with logistics and make sure students are on top of their schedules,” Iwai-Louie said. 

Overall, the tournament was a positive experience for the second place team. “In the end, we won all three rounds and got some pretty decent speaker points and lots of precise and informative feedback,” Cheng said.