WHS debate team travels to Yale


Credit: Courtesy of @waylandspeechanddebate on Instagram

The WHS debate team travels to New Haven, CT for the Yale Invitational tournament. “I think all of us are pretty excited [for the tournament],” senior debate president Prash Subbiah said. “For most people on the team, this is their first overnight debate trip, so they don’t really know what it’s like, but it’s a lot of fun and [also] not really that much pressure.”

Selena Liu

This weekend, select members of the Wayland High School Debate Team will attend the Yale Invitational tournament in New Haven, CT. The tournament begins on Friday, Sept. 30, so the debate team will leave WHS after third block and board a booster bus driven by their club advisor, special education teacher Jacob Senghas. They will return Sunday evening.

The Yale tournament will be the first time the debate team has traveled out of state for a tournament since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. During COVID-19, all tournaments took place online via zoom. Last year, in-person tournaments were restarted, but they were only one day long. The debate team traveled to various in-person tournaments last year, but they were all in-state, such as the state tournament in Chelmsford, MA.

“[Throughout] my [entire] debate career, we have never traveled outside of the state for a tournament due to COVID-19 restrictions,” junior co-novice captain Michael Wightman said. “I don’t think I can speak for everyone because we are certainly all feeling different [emotions], but I am definitely excited to go to a real national tournament. [However], I am also nervous [about facing] experienced debaters from all over the country.”

In order to get the trip approved, the debate team had to work through many logistics. This included finding proper transportation and finding an appropriate place to stay. They were also required to find two chaperones to accompany the team on the trip, which they had no issue with. Because the trip was planned almost two months in advance, the entire process was relatively smooth.

“There [was] a form that we [had] to fill out [to request approval for the trip],” president Prash Subbiah said. “Our advisor, [Mr. Senghas], then [talked] to [Principal Allyson] Mizoguchi, [who] put it on the school committee’s agenda for approval. We actually didn’t have too many problems with it.”

Each school attending the tournament was given a limited number of students they were allowed to bring. That meant difficult decisions had to be made about who would be able to go.

“Yale has two divisions, JV and varsity,” junior varsity captain Ayush Kumar said. “Usually tournaments also have a novice division for first year debaters, but [this tournament doesn’t]. Both JV and varsity debaters have competed [for at least a year], so they already have some experience under their belt.”

Because the Yale tournament is a national tournament, there will be high school debate teams from around the country. However, there weren’t any prerequisites for the attending students. The Yale tournament is simply a qualifier for the Tournament of Champions, which is the national championship for high school debate held in Lexington, Kentucky later this year. The WHS debate team hopes to get a bid, which is a slot to the tournament. It takes two bids to qualify for the national tournament.

“There is some anxiety [about being] thoroughly prepared, as the other teams at the tournament will likely be stronger than [the teams from our] local circuit,” Kumar said. “Schools from all over the country are going, so there’s going to be some pretty elite competition. [A] lot of us are looking forward to meeting new people, traveling together and competing at a high level.”

This weekend’s tournament has six preliminary rounds. Since public forum debate occurs in a partnership, each person will be assigned a partner from the same school. Each of these pairs will be randomly assigned to an opponent from another school for the first two rounds. After the first two rounds, pairs will be placed against teams with the same record.

“[This practice is to] make sure that even if you’re not doing so well, you still have a chance at winning some rounds,” Subbiah said. “[The judges are] trying to keep [the tournament] competitive after the six preliminary rounds. The teams with positive records will usually break to the elimination rounds, which is just a bracket like any other tournament. If you win, you go through, and if you lose, you’re out of the tournament.”

Preparing for all types of debate tournaments takes a lot of effort, but preparation for national debate tournaments like these take even more energy and time. One topic is chosen for the month that the tournament is held in, and debaters have to be able to argue both sides of the topic. This month’s topic is high-speed rail, so WHS’s debate team members are writing cases in favor of and against it. They also have to prepare responses for potential arguments, which are referred to as “blocks.” To make sure everyone is comfortable, practice rounds are run in the few weeks leading up to the actual tournament.

“Normally, there’s only so many plausible arguments you can make on any given topic,” Subbiah said. “We try to prepare for those [in order to] have evidence to refute them going into the rounds, [so we’re not just] relying on our background knowledge.”