Still up for debate


photo by Grace Dean

Freshman Grace uses her notes to perform her refutation speech. Notes are called “flows” as students record the flow of the round, writing who is speaking and what is being said.

Laptop cameras and Google Docs pages at the ready, the Speech and Debate team attended their second tournament of the year on Saturday, Oct. 14. Coordinated through the websites Yaatly and Speechwire, which allow for live video chat rooms and organize panels of judges, the competition ran from 8:30 a.m to 4:45 p.m..

Students were paired against other competitors from a slew of high schools in Orlando, including West Orange and Timber Creek. While each school participated as a team, students competed as individuals or in pairs.

While the basic tournament decorum and rules applied, the entire competition was held virtually to keep students and judges safe. Formal wear such as suits and blouses were still appropriate, yet students could now be seated the entire round, and there was no shaking of hands. Speeches were conducted using webcams, and judges filled out their ballots electronically.

Every tournament is judged by a mix of parents, debate coaches and volunteers who have to complete judge training. Coach and sponsor Julie Durgin was in charge of informing parents about protocol and any updates regarding the event, but also teaching them the basics of speech and debate. While the tournament faced issues, like students who were blocked from entering rooms and judges that had to leave mid-day, Durgin was confident in the overall performance of parent judges.

The biggest challenge was making sure everyone felt comfortable on the new platforms- since there were two competition platforms to navigate,” Durgin said. “Parents have to be somewhat tech savvy [; there were] some issues, but overall it went pretty smoothly.”

Debate captain senior Tai Markman was also tasked with preparing each member for their events. She felt assured in the team’s ability, throughout the week during practice sessions.

Team practices differ according to the event, with different WebEx meetings scheduled each day for Public Forum, Congress and Individual Events (IE). The move to online practice was different from the in-person practices held in previous years, but Markman feels they were still productive.

We are able to give speeches, debate each other, and give critiques to make sure the information and speech is the best it can be,” Markman said. “I am lucky to help lead a team that is prepared and ready to practice.” 

Freshman Grace Dean competed in the Public Forum event with partner freshman Marlene Bekheit. Public Forum is a debate between two duos who speak on different political policies.  They needed to prepare two scripts outlining an argument for the pro and con side of the subject; sides are determined using a coin flip for each round. Dean enjoys the weekly practices because she feels the feedback from captains and other team members are helpful.

Team practices really helped me because I was able to go over certain points and establish what I needed for extra evidence,” Dean said. 

Only Dean and Bekheit’s second debate tournament, Bekheit was nervous, but felt more positive than she had during the first in October.

I applied knowledge that I was taught since October because of the feedback given from varsity. I [remembered]key details of how to refute a case and defend my side during rounds,” Bekheit said.

Unlike Public Forum, a debate event, the speech events are structured differently and do not require the participation of students on the tournament day itself. Instead of presenting scripts to competitors and judges for live critique and competition, performers pre-record their speeches and submit them before the tournament day.

Junior Allyson Myers competed in Original Oratory; students must deliver memorized, 10-minute speeches on a topic of their choice. The ability to pre-record presentations gave Myers a break from the panic she feels before tournament day, but also allowed her to finetune aspects of her speech.

“I did a lot of takes before I even thought about submitting. You have to be comfortable in front of a camera, you need to watch your tone, pace, volume and what plays well on camera,” Myers said.

Results and winners have yet to be announced; Durgin told captains that they would take longer than normal due to difficulties. She does not foresee in-person competition next semester, which proves frustrating for her, but she understands the need for social distancing.

Regardless of complications and outcome, Durgin is proud of the team’s past accomplishments and its adaptation to new environments.

“I love this activity and I love seeing my kids excel and overcome the odds. The debate team makes it happen when we need to, and [Saturday] wasn’t any different,” Durgin said.