No debating the greatness of Blair's debate team

Nov. 10, 2013, 1:49 p.m. | By Birhan Alemayehu | 10 years, 3 months ago

The 76 member debate team has been defending county champions two years running

It's a Tuesday afternoon and the bell has rung, signaling the end of the school day for Blazers. Most Blazers head for the buses, sports practices, play rehearsals or any of the many other activities that are held at Blair. A select few, however, head towards room 216 for debate team practice.

Senior captains (from left) Rujia Teng, Aanchal Johri and Ashutosh Nanda lead weekly discussions at the debate meetings.  Photo courtesy of Connor Smith.

The 76 Blair debaters buckle down and get to work almost immediately. Senior captains - Shaun Datta, Callie Deng, Neil Davey, Aanchal Johri, Arvind Kannan, Ashutosh Nanda and Rujia Teng - go over the agenda for the day's practice. When the captains are done, they ask other members of the team to be quiet at least two times before team sponsor Stefanie Weldon blows her whistle to call attention.

Practice time

At practices, debaters discuss their resolution. "The benefits of domestic surveillance by the NSA outweigh the harms." A senior captain types away on the computer what debaters are saying concerning the topic. Members state their positions and ideas concerning the pros and cons of the topic. Captains suggest to the juniors, sophomores and freshman on what to say for their debates and whether or not the information that they give is accurate.

The 2013-2014 Blair debate team has over 75 members.  Photo courtesy of Connor Smith.

Members bring in their own topics for debates as it is a requirement. Debaters, for example, give suggestions to each other on what a debater can add to the points that they are trying to make. A senior captain and Weldon pull out novice debaters and take them to another room, where they give the debaters advice on how to improve style and content for their next debate. But despite the serious discussions that go on during the practice, there is still room for jokes and laughs. Weldon mentions, with disbelief, to a group of new debaters how at a previous competition a debater from another school had held a pink marker throughout the entire debate and kept twirling it in between her fingers. Weldon makes a statement about how ridiculous that was, which causes the new debaters to start laughing.

Dividing the workload

Debate team advisor Stefanie Weldon trains next year's new coach.  Photo courtesy of Connor Smith.

The debate team divides the workload between seniors, juniors and sophomores. Seniors have the responsibility of reviewing pairs. Weldon proudly says, "I give the captains the support they need. I rely on them because they're experienced." Junior Alex Wiebe states that, "the captains are really good this year."
Teachers love it when their students finally understand something. Being captain of this team gives that same pleasure Senior captain Ashutosh Nanda states, "It is fun to see when people finally get it."
Juniors and sophomores have the responsibility of entering the data for the team. The club rarely has to advertise the club, since. Underclassmen naturally join the team after hearing upperclassmen talk about it which was the case for Nanda.

No debate about the greatness

With 38 pairs, the 76 member team is currently ranked amongst the top 100 teams in the United States and has been defending county champions two years running. Last year Blair got first and second place in the county championships. Individually, the members themselves have been accomplishing a lot. Nanda, who's been on the team since his freshman year, was a quarter finalist with his partner during his sophomore year, and made it to second round of finals.

A team has to be extraordinary if it competes against itself for a competition. Nanda says that, it was exciting to see two teams from Blair competing against each other.”

Wiebe, who enjoys researching current events and arguing, is on his second year of being on the debate team, currently has a record of 2-0, along with his partner. Wiebe finished last year's competition with 8-2 record and placed 11th in the county.

Competing with confidence

Most people crack under the pressure of presenting a mini presentation or debating in front of their class and even arguing with friends over something simple is hard for some people. So imagine having to debate for 45 minutes against people that you probably don’t know, in front of a judge who will follow your every move. Intimidating? Yes.

It is easy for members themselves to be nervous before a debate. Wiebe says, with a smile, "Yes, I'm nervous before a debate, but I've gotten more confident."

A good debate requires confidence from both sides. You could have all the information for your topic but if you don’t have the confidence the judge can easily knock off your points. Weldon makes this clear to all the debaters during practices.

Sponsoring the greatness

Weldon, apart from being sponsor for the team, is a Justice, Law and Society teacher as well as the mock trial coach. She has been a sponsor for the team for almost eight years. Weldon definitely gets an enough share of debating from the classes she teaches, yet she still enjoys sponsoring the team. "I love debate. It's so much fun," Weldon says.

For Weldon it is also important to see debaters grow into better arguers. "I like seeing them grow" she says. "Crawl before you walk, walk before you run" is what she says to beginner debaters who went 0-2 at last month's debate." Weldon is proud of what the team has been accomplishing. "I'm bursting. I think they're marvelous" Weldon adds, "It's nice to win but it is nicer to see them grow."

The experience

Being a part of a team is a worth wile experience. You learn a lot, work a lot with people, improve on your skills, become a part of a "family" and most importantly, have fun. Wiebe agrees that being on the debate team is exactly like that. "It's definitely fun. There's also a family culture around us."

Nanda agrees that being on the team improves the skills of debating as well as you learn a lot. "I've definitely improved over the years. It's been a shift in mentality for me because you learn to think on your feet a lot."
Weldon agrees that friendships are made through the experience of being on the team. For Weldon, the friendships are not superficial but real enough that it can't be ruined. She was able to see that after last year's final where Blazers went against each other for first place and second place.

Being the top debating team in the county and being in the top 100 in the US is not something that is easily achievable. Blair's debate team work hard to earn that honor. With hardworking senior captains, motivated junior, sophomore, and freshman debaters and an advisor who loves what she does, Blair's debate team is truly one that is hard to knock over.

Editor's Note: Aanchal Johri is Editor-in-Chief of Silver Chips Online.

Tags: Arvind Kannan Neil Davey Ashutosh Nanda Shaun Datta Aanchal Johri Callie Deng Rujia Teng

Birhan Alemayehu. Hi, I'm Birhan and I'm one of the news editors. I participate in Blair Theatre and Sankofa :) I am 100% fluent in Amharic. I have my foreigner moments so if I randomly start talking in Amharic, do not be surprised. I am a bookworm. … More »

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