This Year’s Debate Team: Meeting the Challenge

2020 won’t stop the BHHS debate team. Read on to learn what debate looks like on a virtual platform.

By Benjamin Berfield

This year’s challenges have moved almost everything to a virtual space, and the Byram Hills debate team is no exception. Usually, the team meets in person and travels to different locations for tournaments, but adjustments have been required for this year’s circumstances. However, the debate team has been embracing these new challenges and has been able to start this year off strong. 

So far, some aspects of debate have remained the same, but key adjustments had to be made. Most importantly, debate coach Mr. Andriello stated, “We’ve gone from being in a physical space to a digital space.” While he laments the lost face-to-face camaraderie, and travelling around the country, there are now more event opportunities than ever because students can virtually travel anywhere. Mr. Andriello identified the toughest transition as figuring out the logistics of practice as well as kids’ ability to interact with one another. One way of keeping participants engaged has been setting up a website with Google Meet links for practices. In addition, the National Speech and Debate Association created a video platform used for each tournament. 

Despite the challenges, Mr. Andriello had many positive things to say about the team’s response to the obstacles faced this year. He credited the technology as helpful for allowing the tournaments to happen through the video platform. In addition, he also praised the students for being on task despite not being able to give them directions during in-person tournaments, stating, “There’s been a lot more personal responsibility that I’ve been really impressed with.” Another high point Mr. Andriello noted was more opportunities for kids to participate, instead of having fewer events with larger groups. He pointed out that during a typical tournament, “I’d probably have 20 kids going. Instead I have six kids competing virtually, but I have another six kids going the following week somewhere else.” 

Some of the debate team’s new adjustments might be used long term. Mr. Andriello gave credit to the online system of debate, pointing out its ability to restrict the financial burdens that may come with tournaments. This eliminates the expenses that come from traveling to different competitions. As for the future, he doesn’t believe that the virtual piece of debate will go away, stating that while “I don’t think in-person tournaments are going away forever,” he thinks “you’re going to see another layer on top of it.” This is a reference to the possible increase in the usage of virtual debates, even after everyone will be allowed to meet in person. 

All school extra curricular activities have changed this year, and debate is no exception. Meetings and tournaments have been adjusted, and they’ve been working nicely for the moment. So far, the debate team has met these challenges head on.