Debate Wins Best School at Roxbury Latin

With many novice debaters and new captains, the debate team worked through a busy week of practices and speech-writing to prepare for a tournament at Roxbury Latin, their first large-scale competition of the academic year.

Each year, the competition attracts debaters from prep schools throughout New England, such as Deerfield Academy, Choate Rosemary Hall, and St. Paul’s School. This year, on Sunday, September 23, eight Hotchkiss students dedicated their one unscheduled day of the week to the annual event.

Prior to the competition, students practiced and strategized from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m every night, culminating in a mock debate at the end of the week. Annabelle Duval ’19, Ian Gill ’19, and Carolyn Ren ’19, this year’s Debate team captains, prepared new debaters by reviewing format and style and presenting sample arguments. The captains also urged the team to stay informed on current events, controversial topics, and influential organizations, such as the National Endowment of the Arts – subjects which are typically incorporated into resolutions at competitions.

In initial practices, the captains paired up advanced and novice debaters, so that novices could learn the basics from more seasoned peers. The groups eventually split and participated in debates separated by experience level. In the Roxbury Latin tournament, the two pairs of novice debaters’ and the two pairs of advanced debaters’ scores both count toward determining the winning school. Duval said, “I want to help the novices learn how to debate [while also warming up the more advanced debaters]. You can’t win a debate competition without a good novice team and a good advanced team.”

This debate engaged its participants with a busy schedule from the moment they arrived in West Roxbury, MA. In the afternoon, debaters participated in three hour-long debates. After ten minutes of prep time, in which they could formulate their cases, each pair of debaters spoke for or against a given topic. At the end of the event, students gathered together to wrap up the day with an awards ceremony and an exhibition debate, in which the two top-scoring advanced teams faced off. Mr. David Conti, faculty advisor of the debate team, said, “I told the team I’m always most nervous before the first debate. It’s the first time [that] this cast of characters [will] go against everybody and see how they do.”

For Kelly Zuo ’20, who joined the debate team last year as a new Lower Mid, being able to attend large-scale debate tournaments, such as the Roxbury Latin, came as a shock. She said, “When I first joined the team, I really just wanted to learn about general debating styles and have some fun. So being able to compete in big competitions now is pretty surreal.” To prepare for the competition, Zuo kept up with the news, took notes of her mistakes during each night’s practice sessions, and organized lists of data and statistics that might come in handy for a variety of topics. At Roxbury Latin, Zuo and her teammate, Annabel Wallace ’21, won best novice pair. She said, “Of course, I was ecstatic that we placed, but at the end of the day, I think it’s the collision of ideas that makes debate interesting.”

The team left its first competition of the academic year as the top school. The team won ten of the 12 individual debates, with Wallace and Zuo placing as best novice pair, Alex McLane ’20 and Gill as fourth-ranked advanced pair, and Ren as fourth-ranked advanced speaker. During all-school auditorium last Tuesday, September 25, Duval, Gill, and Ren presented the Best School award to Mr. Craig Bradley, head of school.