In Westchester County, local debate teams have achieved remarkable levels of success. Towns like Harrison have produced state champions, several top 100 deba- tors, and multiple team championships. Mamaroneck has never contributed to this tradition of success, but with its new policy debate team, that is about to change.
Achieving instant success is not, of course, the main inspiration for the MHS policy debate team, but the activity does have its roots in competition. Focusing on one subject throughout the entire season (this year it is whether the U.S. government should increase engagement with China), debaters research for hours on end to be more informed than their competition. Since citing facts is a major part of winning a debate, research is actually a major part of the debate. Competitors typically are well-versed in both their arguments and the opponent’s arguments, since they must be able to refute their opponent.
Debate practices mirror that of a school sport, with practices twice a week and 8-10 weekend tournaments throughout the sea- son. In tournaments, debate is heavily structured, with eight minutes for each argument, three minutes per cross-examination, and five minutes per rebuttal. The intense competition has jump-started many famous careers, including those of Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor and singer Bruce Springsteen.
Students benefit from the debate process, gaining improved research and communication skills. This typically results in grade improvements of half a letter (about an 85 to an 89) and greater success in the college admissions process. According to an information sheet handed out at the introductory de- bate meetings, debaters have a 16% higher chance of getting into top colleges than peers with the same grades, and are eligible for debate team scholarships at prestigious schools. George Fuss ’17, a member of the policy debate team, has already experienced academic improvements. “Policy debate has not only expanded my abilities intellectually, but also furthered my knowledge on important world issues,” he stated. Improved intellectual abilities may relate to why students involved in debate typically see grade improvements. On top of all the academic benefits, debate offers a unique social experience. Traveling across the country with teammates builds friendships, and competing against the same opponents time and time again creates meaningful connections. At an introductory meeting, a parent who helped spearhead the team’s creation fondly recalled serving as best man to one of his competitors. While the team has not been around for very long, the mood appears to be optimistic. Scores of students attended introductory meetings, enthusiastically acting on prompts to debate about current issues; those willing to take the next step engaged in a five-hour long weekend boot camp to get up to speed. For a team that hopes to develop into a competitive and vibrant program in the future, things are looking good early on.
By Jack Mollin