ORHS Debate Team’s First Tournament of the Year

     After almost two years of no in-person competitions, the Oyster River High School Debate Team was excited to come back on Saturday, November 20th for their first debate tournament of the year.

     In each of the tournament’s four hour-long rounds, teams of two debaters faced off to discuss the resolution that “increased United States federal regulation of cryptocurrency transactions and/or assets will produce more benefits than harms.” Oyster River hosted the debate at the school, and around ten teams from Portsmouth High School (PHS) and four teams from Saint Thomas Aquinas High School (STA) attended. 

Welcome sign posted outside the cafeteria/check-in location

     ORHS Debate Team advisor and English teacher Kara Sullivan was looking forward to the tournament. A few days before the debate, Sullivan said, “I’m super excited for the kids because they’re really excited about it. This is a group that’s been trying to hold onto debate all through last year, and I’m so glad we can provide them with an in-person experience.” 

     While the debate team did continue meeting through the COVID-19 pandemic, it operated very differently from how it would in a normal year. Sarah Lyon (‘22) started debating in her sophomore year, and has stuck with it through the pandemic. She said, “it was rough going into Covid, because debate isn’t really something that works well online.” She said there was one scrimmage over Zoom last year, which was “very informal and not at all what debate is normally like… [but] I actually liked that better. I think we didn’t necessarily get as much substance through, but having the relaxed atmosphere was very good, especially with the stress of Covid.” 

     Lyon added that “coming back to debate after Covid was a pretty natural transition. The first round was rough because we hadn’t debated in two years, but once you get back into it, it’s really easy to pick it back up again.”

     This feeling was echoed by many first-time debaters as well. Freshman Anika Pant (‘25) is new to debate, and said that “it was definitely nerve-wracking the first time, but after a bit it went okay. All the people were really nice.” Her debate partner, Greg Caron (‘25), was also debating for the first time and agreed with Pant, saying, “it was really stressful the first debate, but after that, the second debate was really easy.” 

Elsie Paxton (’23) calls ORHS debaters in for a pep talk while waiting for results

     To ensure that everyone was fully prepared for the tournament, the debate team had met during several Flex periods leading up to the tournament. During these preparation times, more experienced debaters coached newer ones in crafting their arguments to help make them more comfortable. The team also had a shared research document for sharing resources on the debate’s topic.

     This research and preparation was important to making sure every argument would impress the judges. To win a debate, partners and teams took turns raising contentions and arguing their assigned point of view. Carolann Fenton was a judge at the tournament and explained that to choose a winner, “I looked for two different criteria. One was obviously pointing out their arguments and being able to support them with sources and data, and being knowledgeable about their topic. [The other criteria judged] how they physically carried themselves while they were speaking, how they presented themselves to other people, were they making eye contact, were they using their hands too much, did they have objects, [and] things like that.” Judges took notes throughout the debates, and then applied their notes to a point system to determine winners.

     In the end, Portsmouth swept the awards, with students from PHS winning all three top teams and top speakers. Still, Oyster River is excited to learn from Saturday and compete in more tournaments as the year goes on. Sullivan said after the debate, “I think it went really well… It was a great opportunity for Oyster River to get an in-person debate under their belt, and I’m thrilled about that.” She added, “a goal that I have is for us to have some more practice time and research time, which is something that Portsmouth does.” 

     Lyon was also happy with the debate’s results. She said, “it seems like all of the new freshmen got a feel for [debating], and everyone who hasn’t debated before is comfortable now, which I think is good. I think we did well overall.” Caron agreed, saying, “I’m really excited to go to the next tournament. I think I’ll do much better.”

-Zoe Selig