Debaters Compete at St. Sebastian’s

Superheroes, aliens, and vegetarianism were only some of the topics deliberated over by eight students at a debate tournament two weeks ago at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, MA.

The annual tournament brought together prep schools from throughout New England, including Andover, Choate, Groton, and St. Paul’s on Sunday, February 17. The event featured novice debaters; in attendance from Hotchkiss were Beatrice Conti ’22, Ilene Park ’22, Arhan Chhabra ’22, Tamao Isono ’20, Ein Jun ’22, Stella Ren ’22, Mitchell Riley ’22, and Royce Shey ’21.

Out of over 130 debaters, Beatrice was the school’s top debater, finishing in ninth place. Chhabra, Park, and Jun ranked in the top twenty. However, the team itself did not place in the top three. Head Coach Mr. David Conti said, “They dealt really well with a new situation. Some of the kids they debated against weren’t novices, which was frustrating for them, and they still did a good job.”

The debaters looked at this event as an opportunity to improve case-building, teamwork, and speaking skills. For some, such as Riley, this marked their first tournament. He said, “[My partner Royce and I have] gained more confidence, and we’ll feel much better in practice [now] because of how successful we felt during the tournament.”  Beatrice Conti said, “There are team moments where we decompress and talk about what went well [and] what went poorly and those are really the best moments, and moments where I’m really happy to be a part of this team.”

Though this was some of the debaters’ first tournament, the newcomers were not the only ones facing unfamiliar challenges.  Even the more experienced novices struggled with unorthodox resolutions. Resolutions at St. Sebastian’s were more theoretical and whimsical, in contrast to the concrete, policy-based resolutions that the team debates in practice. Mr. Conti said, “Our novice debaters [were] sometimes frustrated by the silly resolutions…that don’t fit with what we usually do, which is policy and politics.”

The St. Sebastian’s debate is the only tournament of the year intended solely for novices. The tournament follows a Canadian parliamentary style, which consists of two-on-two debates between an affirmative team, known as the Government, and a negative team, which is referred to as the Opposition. Teams may not consult reference material while preparing for the debate or during the actual debate. Each team participated in three rounds.

These debaters will head to Belmont Hill on April 7 for another tournament, which will also include advanced debaters.