Debate Strives for Success in Competitive Pool of Schools

by Lauren Frank ‘23

Despite its typically negative portrayal in movies or T.V., debate at Sherwood is quite the opposite. This close-knit and motivated group prides itself on friendly competition and implementing debate skills during the real meets, hoping to make it to county championships.

Samantha Ager, the club’s sponsor, hosts club meetings every Thursday at lunch in Room C118. At the beginning of the month, Ager creates a working document for club members to post their research materials and help them prepare for the next debate. During meetings, she and the captains help students brainstorm ideas, make pro/con lists, and research information. For the newer underclassmen, they often assist them more by finding exercises to help them with crossfire, where both sides can freely ask questions about each other’s arguments.

Seniors Safiya Alam and Alexis Booker, the co-captains, spend alot of time helping other members of the club while also preparing their own research. Alam and her partner, senior Tran Le, usually prepare for their debates 12-14 days before each meet.

“I would estimate that we would spend 10-15 hours researching and writing individually throughout that period,” said Alam.

Debate meets occur every third Wednesday of the month at Blair High School. Two teams with two students each are assigned a room along with a judge. One speaker from each team has four minutes to present their opening speeches and crossfire, when they ask each other questions. The remaining two speakers present their arguments and crossfire. Next, the first two speakers have two minutes each to summarize their argument. Finally, for three minutes all speakers from both teams can speak in a segment called grand crossfire.

A coin toss before the meet determines which side a team chooses to argue. Debate topics are unpredictable and cover a wide range of national and global issues, including conflict in the Middle East and biometrics. The debate topic is revealed at least a month in advance, so everyone has enough time to conduct quality research to argue either side.

While these topics are more complex, they give club members a better understanding of current global issues and broader outlook of the world.

“Debate isn’t always attractive to everyone because not all these kids understand this kind of geopolitical discourse,” Ager said.

On the debate team, members have many opportunities to improve not only their public speaking skills, but their writing, rhetoric, and argumentation. The research required before each debate adds a lot of work to these students who only meet together once a week, prompting hopes for a debate class at Sherwood. A specific debate class would benefit the team by providing more in-class time to research and lessons targeted towards debate skills, especially for their competition.

Several of the schools competing against Sherwood already have debate classes, putting them at an advantage. Magnets like Blair, Richard Montgomery, and Poolesville have significantly active debate team members. This improves their chances of winning, seeing as they have more students researching material and class time to improve their strategies. While Sherwood is smaller in numbers, the members involved are dedicated towards researching and preparing together every week.

“Debate members at Sherwood are both creative and intelligent, so we are still equipped to adapt towards any difficult questions that may arise during a debate,” Ager explained.

Ager hopes that one of the Sherwood teams qualify for the county playoffs in March. The championships are run by team, instead of by school, so it’s rather an individual competition than a collective group competition. A team automatically qualifies if they win six debates. During the first day of playoffs, each team matches up and debates three rounds. If a team wins all three rounds, they will advance to the second and final day. If they win all three final rounds, they will compete against the other teams until only two teams remain.

Since the start of the school year, Sherwood has gained several new teams because of increased participation. Alam hopes to send around three teams from Sherwood to compete at the next highest level. Regardless of whether any pair qualifies for the state level, MCPS doesn’t require teams to advance if they do not want to. Ultimately, it would be up to the individual school to decide whether or not to send its debate team onto the state or even national level.