Debate team amps up competition in the pandemic


Sophie Reeves

The Speech and Debate team here at Wilson has had a successful fall season, even amidst the pandemic. Tournaments have transitioned to be virtual, and luckily for debaters, that has made the national debate circuit more accessible than ever.

In past years, the Wilson team has visited only a handful of national level tournaments, including the 2019 National Speech and Debate Tournament in Dallas, Texas. This year, that changed.

With tournaments online, competition is never scarce. The debate team has had several big successes, including top placements at the Duke University annual tournament, and at the 41st anniversary of the Villiger Speech and Debate tournament. Topics for these tournaments have ranged from the contentious debate over a US no-first-use policy of nuclear weapons to whether or not voting should be mandatory in democracies around the world.

Additionally, the team had the chance to participate in tournaments like the University of Kentucky Opener and the Mid America Cup, which might have not been possible to attend if it weren’t for the new online environment. “Specific to [Wilson’s Debate team], I think it’s given us an opportunity to experience and succeed at national circuit tournaments, and go beyond our comfort zone,” said senior and president of the Speech and Debate team, Tristan May.

During the pandemic, many electives lost a huge part of their appeal: the community aspect. The debate team though, is something of an anomaly during these distanced times. 

 2020 has been a long year, and debaters and speakers on the team have felt as though the activity has provided some much-needed normalcy and connection. Sophomore Ella Davis, a Public Forum debater, said “I feel like it has brought the team closer together…There are obvious downsides to not being able to meet in person, but the current circumstances bring us closer together as a whole.”

The 41st Villiger Speech and Debate Tournament, which took place on the weekend of November 20 included many victories for Wilson team members. Sophomore Talia Ehrenberg placed 3rd in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, alongside junior Chris O’Brien, who placed 6th and sophomore Sophie Reeves, who placed 7th. In Extemporaneous Speaking, sophomore Karam Weigert placed 7th. 

This year, tournaments occur virtually on NSDA (National Speech and Debate Association) Campus, which is a Zoom-like meeting platform that is well-suited for Speech and Debate. Although, there are technical difficulties at times, with many debaters expressing frustration with the lagging audio and poor camera quality not all minded. “I personally like NSDA Campus. I’ve heard a lot of bad things about it from other people in the debate community, but personally it’s worked really well for me,” O’Brien said. 

Overall, there have most definitely been some changes to the way that the Wilson Speech and Debate team functions. Practices are on Zoom, and tournaments have been held on several different meeting platforms. Even though there has been a lot of adjustment necessary for the team, they have adapted to the online conditions well. Plus, in the process, they have attended some great tournaments and picked up some trophies… and electronic badges!