Debate Team

By Alexandra Brocato

When most people think about sports, soccer, football, tennis, swimming, and track & field come to mind. All of these sports require intense practice, hours of dedication, and hard work. Most would not consider debate to be a sport, but you may be surprised to discover that participating in debate requires the same attributes as these sports. Students dedicate hours of their time to research, write, and debate their cases. Debate requires intense practice, hours of dedication and hard work.

At Byram Hills, we are fortunate to have a large and successful debate team that brings together many students who share a passion for argumentation and oration. As Alix Weiss, the debate team’s Secretary and the Middle School Captain, can attest, the debate team “provides students who don’t play sports (or do plays) with the opportunity to have a team experience.”

Like most sports, debaters travel each weekend to compete at prestigious tournaments with the hopes of becoming nationally ranked and winning awards. Debating in these events requires extreme practice, focus, and hard work. Debate tournaments usually span the whole weekend from 7 am to 10 pm. Even so, the commitment goes far beyond many other sports. Sabrina You, co-captain of the Public Forum Debate Team, admits that she will likely put in “at least 10 hours a week, along with the 2 or 3 weekend days for the tournaments.”

In comparison with other schools in our area, the Byram Hills Debate Team is one of the largest and most successful. The program has grown to include 35 students and is led by accomplished coaches – Emil Moussa, Ben Koh, and Devon Weis – who have years of experience debating.

The Debate Team uniquely attracts students with different interests and backgrounds. However, they have many things in common; they are extremely knowledgeable, passionate, and articulate. Surrounding yourself with these people is “so eye opening. The huge variance in viewpoints, opinions and ideas is amazing, not to mention the strength behind the support network they create. It’s such an amazing team to be a part of, ” says Sabrina.

There are two different styles of debate that are practiced at Byram Hills:  Public Forum (‘PF’) and Lincoln Douglas (‘LD’). Public Forum debate involves teams of two debaters who alternate their speeches for their side, either affirming or negating the topic.  Preparation requires significant research to support the arguments.  Topics change each month and are generally topics of national importance. This year’s topics have included:

  • Resolved: The United States federal government should adopt a carbon tax.
  • Resolved: On balance, economic sanctions are reducing the threat Russia poses to Western interests.
  • Resolved: On balance, standardized testing is beneficial to K-12 education in the United States.
  • Resolved: In response to the current crisis, a government should prioritize the humanitarian needs of refugees over its national interests.

Lincoln Douglas, on the other hand, is a style of debate which is one-on-one and typically centers around a philosophical, moral or ethical topic. There is a focus on extreme speed and logical argumentation.  LD topics change every two months, and this year’s topics have included:

  • Resolved- The United States ought to promote democracy in the Middle East.
  • Resolved- In the United States, private ownership of handguns ought to be banned.
  • Resolved- In the United States criminal justice system, jury nullification ought to be used in the face of perceived injustice.
  • Resolved- Adolescents ought to have the right to make autonomous medical choices.

Participating on the debate team provides students with a multitude of skills. Students develop strong speaking skills as they must be articulate, persuasive and factual in order to convince a judge to vote for their team. Debaters must prove their opponent’s case is less valid than theirs, without being too bombastic. Sabrina explains that “persuasion is so important, and being able to look deep into a topic and look at all sides of the arguments is really valuable.” Sabrina notes that she will carry these skills into any job she pursues.

Debate also requires that students have a full understanding of very important, prevalent issues, as outlined above. All of these topics are very complicated, thought-provoking and require extensive research. Also, presenting logical, concise cases allows students to improve their writing skills. Alix Weiss explains that “many skills I learned from the team carry into my educational career… my knowledge about specific topics and how things work in the government and in the world is applied to essays … I have learned how to find reliable sources and what is biased information compared to reliable sources.”

The debate team is more than a sport. Not only does it require intense practice, hours of dedication and hard work, but it also builds student’s confidence in public speaking, provides a vast knowledge of current events, and teaches students the importance of collaboration and teamwork. These are all important life skills that one can hone on the Byram Hills Debate Team, so come and join the team!

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