Reporter, Lincoln Parks
Back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth. Raised voices, an increased rate of speech, and dirty looks all characterize a typical debate. The environment becomes heated, toxic, and relationship-damaging very quickly. Most people prefer not to engage in this type of verbal combat in their daily lives.
So why would anyone debate for fun? Members of the debate team would, unsurprisingly, argue. Members research topics, prepare arguments, and travel to different schools to compete against other students. These students come from all around Nebraska, with some tournaments even pitting teams from other states or countries against one another.
Though most basic competitions primarily host in-state teams, more advanced tournaments can bring students from around the world.
“Opponents come from all over. Many local tournaments have teams from every school in the state. National circuit tournaments have teams from all the states, and at nationals we faced a team from Japan,” junior Camden Rohnka said.
While the image of bowtie-clad students furiously screaming about current events may come to mind when picturing debate, it is not quite that chaotic. An immense amount of preparation goes into writing debate cases, and while spur-of-the-moment arguments are made, most of the contestants’ main points are pre-written.
“We are given a month to build a case, and coach usually teaches you about the topic,” sophomore David Meyers said.
The topics debated are usually related to current events, and because neither participant knows which side they will be fighting for, debaters must prepare both sides of the case.
“Our coach makes sure that our arguments are equally strong and thorough, and since debaters are generally open-minded, we tend not to favor one side or the other,” sophomore Jack Tomsu said.
When the sides are first announced, neither participant knows who will win, seeing as the debate can go either way.
The debaters day starts as early as 6 a.m. Lines of bleary-eyed students, coffee cups in hand, march onto the bus. After a long drive, they arrive at the host school and walk in, newly rejuvenated and ready to compete.
With all the teams condensed into a high school cafeteria, frequent interactions between teams can occur, leading to lots of smack talk.
“Some of the big schools take pride in their teams and try their best to beat everybody,” Tomsu said.
When the actual debates begin, the two participants follow an organized structure while a judge in the back of the room determines the winner. Judges then decide who’s better based off their speaking ability and arguments. Even if you have a decent answer, poor speaking can cost you.
“The atmosphere is very competitive and nerve wracking, but can also be relaxing when spending time with teammates,” Tomsu said.
Just like the atmosphere of the general congregation, the room pre-debate and post-debate can have very emotionally charged feelings.
“I usually feel pretty nervous before debates, and afterwards if I did well I’m pretty calm. If I did badly I’m usually more nervous than before,” Meyers said.
After competing in five debate rounds, the debaters then go into three out rounds, which Tomsu describes as “like playoffs”. These rounds are different in the fact that three judges judge the debate instead of just one. After these round the winners emerge, and a short awards ceremony takes place.
Debate is certainly a staple of high school extracurricular activities, but there are additional opportunities for debaters post-graduation.
“If you’re really good at debate, there are plenty of opportunities that can come up. For example, one girl from Millard North is going to Harvard because of her debate skills. If you go far in debate, it’s likely that people are going to want to give you scholarships,” Tomsu said.
When looking at the whole picture, debate is more than just a judged shouting match. It’s a legitimate sport where intelligent individuals can develop important skills and have intellectual conversation with others in a regulated, competitive environment. While debate may seem intimidating on the surface level, it’s much more.