Wilson debate team competes at nationals


DEBATIN' WITH FINESSE- The Wilson debate team competed against hundreds of other debaters and speakers at the Grand National tournament for the Catholic Forensic League in the Washington Convention Center. Sophomore Elie Salem (far left) and freshman Tristan May (far right) advanced to the first elimination round.

This year the entire debate team qualified for NCFL (National Catholic Forensic League) Grand Nationals in Washington, DC.

This competition is one of the largest speech and debate tournaments in the country, with the best debaters from around the nation coming to compete in the massive event that runs from May 26-28th in the Washington Convention Center and several hotels downtown.

To have the opportunity to go to the national tournament in any form of competition, each person or team had to finish in the top six in one of the monthly WACFL (Washington-Arlington Catholic Forensic League) tournaments, which qualifies them for Metro Finals, the debate finals for the DMV area. In some cases, teams just below the top six could be an additional qualifier to Metro Finals. The top six people or teams from each event at Metro Finals qualified for Grand Nationals.

This tournament is the culmination of a long year of hard work for the debate team members Tristan May, Elie Salem, Jamie Stewart-Aday, Alex Holmes, and Layla Behbehani, and their coach Johanna Crowl. Almost every month of this school year, the debate team wrote speeches, conducted practice debates, and formed rebuttals to have the chance to compete in Nationals.

“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to debate with so many great people this year, and I’m mostly just excited to see all the work we’ve put in pay off, with going through the process of writing cases and preparing for tournaments over the past 8 months,” Tristan May said on qualifying for nationals.

May is one of the four students from Wilson who competed in a form of debate called Public Forum, where two teams of two go head to head debating a topic, trying to persuade the judge to take their side. The topic for nationals was, “Resolved: Municipalities in the United States ought to be able to declare themselves ‘sanctuary cities.’”

Layla Behbehani participated in a speech competition called Declamation, in which a speaker delivers an excerpt from a speech previously given publicly by someone else. The speaker does not mimic the original author of the speech but delivers the same message in an original and engaging way.

Most events at nationals started with preliminary rounds, played in a quickly and successively. The vast majority of the competitors at any given event were eliminated in these rounds, with only the competitors boasting the best records moving on to compete in the elimination rounds. Elimination rounds are “one and done” meaning only the winner moves on to the next round, and the loser is sent home, eventually crowning a champion of the event.

In Public Forum there were 226 teams entered into the competition, each guaranteed five preliminary rounds. Three judges were present at every debate, and to win a round the team had to win over at least two of the three judges. Teams with a 5-0 record were sent directly into the elimination rounds, which had an original pool of 32 teams. Teams going 4-1 competed against each other, with the winners being entered into the elimination rounds.

Elie Salem and Tristan May went 4-1 in the preliminary rounds, beat another 4-1 team, and advanced to the first elimination round. Jamie Stewart-Aday and Alex Holmes were eliminated in the preliminaries with a record of 3-2, and Layla Behbehani was eliminated in the preliminaries of her Declamation event.

Reflecting on the tournament, Alex Holmes said, “I felt pretty good about our performance [at Nationals]… It was a great experience, and we met other debaters from Ohio, Florida, Illinois and more.”