Stuyvesant Speech and Debate Team Resumes In-Person Tournaments

Stuyvesant’s Speech and Debate (S&D) team kicks off the new school year with a return to in-person tournaments.

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By Uma Sukhu

Stuyvesant’s Speech and Debate team (S&D) is well-known for competing nationally. However, for the past three years, the team has been restricted to virtual tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To start the transition back to in-person events, the seven S&D formats kicked off their year by attending invitationals, including at Yale University and the Bronx High School of Science.

At the Yale University invitational, some of S&D’s notable achievements included seniors Henry Bansbach and Isaac Houts winning the parliamentary debate tournament, seniors Molly Caroll Thompson and Hannah Riegel placing in the semifinals for parliamentary debate, senior Melia Moore achieving semifinals in dramatic interpretation, and sophomores Astrid Harrington and Helen Mancini making it to octofinals in junior varsity public forum debate.

However, one major concern regarding in-person tournaments was payment, considering that tournaments were free in the virtual setting. “The online tournaments that we had last year were all free and this [Yale] tournament was $200 per person,” Captain of Parliamentary Debate Hannah Riegel said. “It definitely felt like a lot to ask of debaters who had not spent a lot on debate last year.”

However, S&D has been able to attain more funds to complement the higher expenses. “It was a lot cheaper to send some kids to tournaments [online] because [now] we have to pay for judges, we have to pay for hotels,” senior and President of S&D Erica Lung said. “[But] we have two major fundraising opportunities: the kickoff meeting and the end of year congregation. During COVID we had a kickoff but I think parents [were] less inclined to donate when you’re at a Zoom meeting.”

In addition to changes in funding, the return to in-person tournaments may be difficult for students to adjust to, especially since there will be a higher sense of speaker presence. “I think it’s harder for the students who have never spoken in front of a live audience before,” English teacher and faculty advisor of S&D Julie Sheinman said.

Nevertheless, many members were able to overcome their fears, knowing that other supportive team members were also in the room. “It’s way more nerve-wracking. I was shaking and sweating a lot more [at the Bronx Science Invitational on October 15th],” sophomore and Novice Director of Congressional Debate Jiawen (Jia) Lin said. “[But] being able to sit next to your teammates and watching them go through the same struggle really brings everyone together.”

Similarly, many debate team members felt more comfortable and connected to debate in an in-person environment. “[During in-person tournaments], there is more of an emphasis on team synergy,” Executive Director of Parliamentary Debate and Team Manager of S&D Molly Carroll Thompson said. “It was really nice [...] to connect with people, and that definitely resparked my love for debate because it had all the fun parts of in-person tournaments that I had been missing.”

For some debaters, the return to in-person tournaments allows them to intertwine actions with speeches, allowing for heightened confidence and easier speech delivery. “I’ve noticed recently that a big part of my speeches is walking back and forth and hand movements. In virtual [tournaments], you can't do that because you're just sitting in one place, you’re not standing up. I am just more confident there,” Varsity Director of Parliamentary Debate Henry Bansbach said. “In terms of interaction, I found that Isaac and I were talking a lot more in round. They can just whisper something in my ear and I can just write it down.”

Though the S&D team no longer has to compete virtually, many formats still utilize online technology to prepare for tournaments beforehand, allowing for greater flexibility and accessibility. “You need to have two speeches with either your upperclassmen or coach. And we basically keep practicing on Flipgrid to give practice speeches,” junior and Novice Director of Extemporaneous Debate Unique Zhang said. Extemporaneous format is preparing for the upcoming Villigers Tournament at Saint Joseph’s University.

Overall, in-person tournaments have received more enthusiasm among members, as opposed to engagement within the pandemic that stifled much of the social aspects of debate. “The problem with COVID was that when we were registering kids, you saw a really sharp decline in kids interested in debate, because [when] we were all online, that really killed the debate drive for a lot of people,” Lung said. “You had people debating, but then you also had a lot of people that just didn’t want to participate in the activity anymore, which was kind of sad.”

With the opportunities of attending more invitationals, seniors hope for future debate members to experience these in-person tournaments. “I’m very excited for all the people that were on the team all last year [...] to get the reward of actually going because they did all the work with no reward last year,” Speech Captain Melia Moore said. “I’m excited for all the new ones to be able to go to their first tournaments and see what the environment is like, compete, and make friends.”