Parliamentary Debate Team wins first tournament in three years


Ava Lipsky  , Staff Writer

The school’s Parliamentary Debate Team won first place at the New York Parliamentary Debate League (NYPDL) January Parliamentary Debate tournament last weekend — after defeating itself. Out of the 51 teams that competed at Stuyvesant High School, both the finalist teams were from Horace Mann — with Sophie Rukin (11) and her partner beating Asha Tandon (10) and Zoe Manges (9) in the finals.

HM is currently ranked 6th in the National Parliamentary Debate League (NPDL). While the NPDL only has rankings organized by school and partnership, Rukin has more points than the top ranked team. While the rankings have yet to be updated, her point score would make her the number one parliamentary debater in the nation, in addition to first in the NYPDL.

In Parliamentary Debate, debaters receive their topic 15 minutes before the round begins. They use that time to prepare a case without doing any external research. As such, it is important to have background knowledge on a wide variety of topics.

Rukin reads the New York Times almost every day to keep up with current events that might arise in a debate, she said. She also reads her debate friend’s matter file, a source of condensed information and debate cases about politics, philosophy, and other potential topics.

At Stuyvesant, every team debated a variety of motions with themes ranging from “Space, the final frontier” to “Marriage.” Debaters are given three new topics each round and go through a coin toss procedure to determine which motion and side they will debate. 

The NYPDL is completely run by high school students. “It prioritizes fun and interesting motions rather than only doing news and international relations motions, which many tournaments do,” Tandon said. 

One motion — Rukin’s favorite —- discussed the promotion of queer theology, tying into ideas that gender variance and queer desire have always been present in human history. “This topic makes you think about intersectionality and evaluate the relationship between queerness and religion,” she said. “When you debate multi-layered topics like this one, people start to think with nuance, and that is super important not only to debate but life.”

The final motion was challenging for both partnerships. “This House Prefers a world with Vulcan Stoic Philosophy as the dominant narrative” asked the debaters to contemplate whether humans should worry about things beyond the power of their will. “This means that you ignore all emotion and prefer hyper rationality, which was an interesting round because the cases of both sides overlapped a lot,” Manges said.

The motion was inspired by Spock from the popular series “Star Trek” and brought up questions on how emotions impact decision making, how sadness can motivate, and how humans believe they are rational when they are not, Tandon said. “Interesting pop culture and philosophy topics in the motions is one of the reasons I love debating in the NYPDL.”

Even though they eventually made it to finals, the team was not very confident in their quarters or semis rounds since they were up against some of the best in the league in very close rounds, Tandon said. “We debated some amazing debaters throughout the tournament,” she said. “I feel really lucky we managed to win.”

Rukin was immensely proud of the team’s successes at the tournament, especially the younger debaters like Tandon and Manges. She works really hard to help coach younger debaters and runs practice rounds to train them. “It is really rewarding seeing the kids you care so much about and work so hard to succeed,” she said. “I hope they are proud of themselves because I am ridiculously proud of them.”

Debate feels different to Rukin this year after meeting role models during the summer who changed her outlook on the activity, she said. “It’s not about winning or rankings or doing it for college — it’s about learning to think critically, be persuasive, and use your voice.”

Through her ranking and win, Rukin hopes to be a role model for other female debaters. “There is lots of sexism [in the debate community], which can be hard to watch as a young girl.” She wants to show girls that they can succeed and be just as good as male debaters. “Don’t let men tell you that you aren’t as good or make you feel inferior.”