Debate students emerge victorious in Riviera competition

From left: Ehab El-Ahmad, Caelen Garcia, William Salyers, Mark Schledorn, Anjani Sharma, Jessica Andrade Conte, Jodie Capron after the tournament
From left: Ehab El-Ahmad, Caelen Garcia, William Salyers, Mark Schledorn, Anjani Sharma, Jessica Andrade Conte, Jodie Capron after the tournament
Joven Garcia

Two teams of students in debate class scored first and second place respectively in the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative public forum tournament in Riviera on Feb 24.

Public forum debates involve two teams of two debating current issues and events. The topic that was assigned to the debaters was “The United States should ban single-use plastics.” In this competition, whether a team is arguing for or against the prompt is decided by a coin flip before the round begins. This means that students have to research and prepare for both sides of an argument.

Five West Shore debate students went to the competition, but the non-competing classmates helped in the competing debaters’ preparation process. The competing debaters would present their cases and evidence before the class, and the class would give feedback and criticism.

“The week preceding the competition, we did a few practices, which helped,” sophomore Caelen Garcia, one of the competitors, said. “The class also helped us research the week before the competition, giving us a few evidence cards. However, we weren’t able to integrate this into the case very well, with us getting the cards a few days before the actual competition.”

While the students were given time to prepare, when met with other debate class assignments and class time restrictions, their time was limited.

“It was a little more rushed,” sophomore Jessica Andrade Conte, who also competed, said. “A bit more rushed than we were last time, but I think we had a lot of good preparation.”

When the day of the competition arrived, Garcia said he felt ready for the debates.

“I was feeling pretty prepared with my partner and I having put a lot of research and time into [our case],” he said. “I was pretty awake and alert getting there, despite waking up at five [in the morning] because of the adrenaline in my system.”

Andrade Conte, on the other hand, said she was feeling more anxious before the debates, but that anxiety faded as she began her cases.

“It made me very nervous, but honestly I get nervous every time before a debate,” she said. “Not as much when I’m debating as before the debate, because I think after doing all the research, you have a base to where you don’t feel as uncomfortable just freely talking about your topic. Also, I think because in public forum debate you have a partner. That makes you feel a lot better too, because if you completely crash, your partner is there to help you pick things up.”

The smaller and less-experienced group of debaters present at the event said the absence of private school debaters aided their confidence.

“It was a lot less intimidating because we knew that we were going up against other public schools and less people in general,” Andrade Conte said. “It was a little funny, because we walked in there and Anjani Sharma, our coach, just barged into this little room that they had secluded, and we just walked in like we were the bosses.”

However, the smaller number of students present at the tournament also created its share of issues as well. Because the amount of debaters was limited, the teams would have to debate the same people repeatedly.

“It was a little complicated; this debate tournament had three rounds and there were only four teams, and we were half the teams,” Andrade Conte said. “So, our first round, we went against team A, second round we went against team B, and the third round we went against team A again. It’s a little bit unusual to debate the same thing again, but it was good.”

The debate teams ended up getting first and second place out of four teams in the tournament, winning the tournament overall.

“I think all of the debates went relatively well,” Andrade Conte said. “I saw a lot of improvement from the first time that we debated. I also still saw a lot of things that we needed to improve on, but just seeing how much we already improved made me very excited, so I wasn’t actually nervous while debating at all. I was very excited and happy about how much we were improving, and it was very fun, even though it’s mentally exhausting.”

Freshman Maggie Qin, who didn’t compete, said she predicted the teams would do well having seen their improvement over time.

“I am not surprised by [the competitors’ success], considering that they’ve separated the novice and varsity this time in awarding,” she said. “I expected that from both of the teams, as they’ve improved drastically from when I competed with them a while back. I personally improved in debating as well. I get to learn a lot of wordings and improv speeches from the competitors. I got a lot of practice, which is super-nice and necessary to be better.”

Garcia said he has seen the effects of his debate practice and competitions both in and out of the classroom.

“I think my debate mindset was really strengthened by this debate,” he said. “For example, I was talking to my family recently, and my brain went to thinking that the argument my sister was making was a poor execution of an argument, with the evidence she provided being inadequate in credibility. However, we were just having a normal conversation. So, in general, the debate helped me with logical and critical thinking, as well as making academic and well-thought-out conclusions from stuff I see, notably while online.”

Andrade Conte said she not only improved in her debating skills, but she also changed the way she thought about debate and its importance.

“I remember thinking about this a lot as we were driving home, that everyone should need to take debate because it really teaches you to communicate and to look at things through different perspectives,” Andrade Conte said. “You have to argue on both sides. It’s a constant conversation and it’s a constant learning experience. It’s not an argument where you’re both just throwing insults at each other. It’s an educational thing throughout the whole process, it’s active learning all the time. I just felt very open-minded. I felt a lot more confident in myself as a communicator and as just a person in general, being able to see things from different perspectives.”


By Juliana Johnson