Oyster River’s First Debate Tournament of the Year

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Jane Spear (‘19) delivers one of her speeches (right) while Brudna Katikireddy (‘20), her debate partner, watches (left).

This past Saturday, October 20th, marked the beginning of the 2018-19 New Hampshire debate league (NHDL) season. Portsmouth High School Hosted the NHDL’s first tournament of the year, which Oyster River attended. The NHDL was founded this spring and hasn’t had a full season yet. Oyster River made a strong showing with five debaters and six observers.

Despite having new members, Oyster River still found success. Two types of awards were presented at the Portsmouth tournament: team awards and individual speaker awards. Jane Spear (‘19) and Brunda Katikireddy (‘20) won the award for third best team while Rohit Kantipudi (‘19) won the third best speaker award. Other debaters included Aidan Hackenburg (‘19) and Signe Kula (‘20).

A debate tournament consists of four rounds of debate all around one topic. The topic for Saturday’s debate was “Resolved: On balance, the benefits of the United States participation in the North American Free Trade Agreement outweigh the consequences.” Debaters must research both sides of the topic and will have to debate both sides at the tournament. At the beginning of each debate round, a coin is flipped that decides which pairing is debating which side.

After receiving his award, Kantipudi said, “to win this award at my first debate competition is a great source of motivation. It’s not only convinced me to keep on debating, but has also inspired many other first timer debaters to stick with this club at ORHS that is only in its second year.”

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Oyster River’s debate team at Saturday’s tournament. From left to right Hackenburg,  Kantipudi, Spear, Katikireddy, Kula, and Alexander Tufto (observer). (Photo courtesy of Kara Sullivan)

Since participants debate both sides of the topic and don’t know which side they’re debating until seconds before the round starts, it forces them to be comfortable with both sides. Hackenburg, Kantipudi’s debate partner, said that, “there’s a lot to think about. There’s a lot of facets. [The topic is] better than I thought it would be.” Kantipudi agrees that debate forces debaters to think about issues differently. “In general, debate forces you to become a very analytical logical thinker and it helps you think on your feet which are all great life skills for anything you decide to do in the future.”

New opponents bring new challenges and points to each debate. Hackenburg reflected on a round saying, “we could have had that debate if we had not tried to do the drug war [point]. It’s a stretch. But it worked so well in our last debate that’s why we were trying to force it.” Part way through their first round, Kantipudi and Hackenburg decided to use a point they hadn’t planned on using that helped them greatly in their debate. While it worked well in their first debate, in their second debate it didn’t go as well.

Hackenburg said that, “I’ve been winging it more and more with each consecutive debate and I feel like it’s been getting better and better every time.”

Beyond being an engaging learning experience, debate also provides an opportunity to learn something about your debate partner, opponents, and team as a whole. Kantipudi said that, “going into this debate today I didn’t really expect much from Aidan Hackenburg, but after having done two debates with him today, I realized that he is honestly one of the most articulate and talented debaters I’ve ever met in my entire life.”

Despite his success at Saturday’s tournament, Kantipudi explained that there is always room to improve. While Saturday’s tournament was a great learning experience, it also showed him how he could change his debate style in the future. “I took the debate class last year as a junior but I was not familiar with the style, public forum, that we did today. I think it was rough at first but once I got accustomed in the first or second round, it was smooth sailing from there. I also learned a lot from watching more experienced debaters debate and I think I’ll be able to implement some strategies in the future,” he said.

Kantipudi and the rest of the debate team will have plenty of time to perfect their skills over the season. Their next tournament is November 10th at Phillips Exeter Academy. In January of next year, Oyster River will also be hosting their own tournament at the high school.