The high school debate world has been known for its far-reaching and tight-knit community, and it has been formed through decades of student and administrator passion for the activity. For decades, nothing has stopped tournaments and events from occurring, but this year it faced perhaps the greatest challenge ever to a competition season: COVID-19.
Of course, as debaters, we are constantly looking for ways to out-maneuver our opponents and this time was no different. In the past eight months, the entirety of the national and regional debate circuit has been moved online and is as competitive as ever. The general structure either uses breakout rooms in Zoom or another website created by the national debate circuit specifically for online debates that puts students in their own rooms with their competitors and judges for every round. School meetings happen on their own Zoom links in between rounds to debrief. Unfortunately, like anything that has been converted from in-person to online during COVID, these systems have not been without flaws. I personally, along with others, have experienced my Wi-Fi crashing during a debate round, not being able to hear speeches, and confusion when sharing resources. Some tournaments have been so dysfunctional that half of the teams came prepared for one topic and the other half came prepared for another! Despite this everyone has come together to try and provide solutions to these issues, and the websites and organization of tournaments continue to improve. Having said all that, Zoom debate does have a few perks, including having the kitchen and your fridge readily available to you, and a comfortable place to sit after hours in long rounds.
Just in the last few weeks, the Berkeley Carroll team has competed in four tournaments including the Yale invitational. With a very successful start to the season, we are already ending with winning records and beginning to qualify for State Championships! My team of Balodis/ Katzman took first place at a recent Brooklyn-Queens Catholic Forensic League tournament giving us a qualifying bid to championships, and Maggie S. ’21 took third place this weekend in a speech competition.
Virtual Debate has also presented an opportunity to debate against students from all across the country and experience many styles of debate without having to get on an airplane. We have even encountered some teams that were competing internationally in Canada. This year, our team is working to take advantage of the benefits of online debate while also trying to foster a similar atmosphere that we have missed from in-person competitions.
Looking forward to this season, coaches and administrators are optimistic that we may begin to have some in-person tournaments perhaps starting in late spring of this year, however, all of that will be determined closer to the date. For now, we will be making the very best of Zoom, and we are grateful that our beloved sport unlike many others has been able to continue during this pandemic, while we continue to appreciate the amazing skills and community debate has always offered.