By Jon Kendall, Coach & Instructor, TASIS Speech & Debate Program
The TASIS Speech & Debate Squad has many reasons to be confident of their prospects at the tournament coming up on March 19—not least of which is that, for a second year running, the squad brought back a winning record from the Harvard National Forensic Tournament.
TASIS England participated in this prestigious competition in Cambridge, Massachusetts last year, and our squad’s advanced debaters still look back on the experience with a well-deserved sense of pride. This year, the travel squad was comprised entirely of first-year debaters.
The four competitors—Talmage C., Maria D., Ian F., and Soham S.— along with a fifth student, Taylor M., flew to the U.S. on the Monday of February break. Our itinerary included three days in Washington, D.C. to meet with experts before flying to Boston for the competition held on Presidents’ Day Weekend.
Throughout January the squad researched their debate topic—gun control—and prepared their cases. Through persistence and a couple of personal connections (especially from chaperone Caroline Morse!), they organized meetings in Washington with a variety of experts, each with a unique perspective. These discussions further developed the squad’s understanding of what has become a complex and deeply divisive issue in American society.
Since debaters have to prepare for both sides of the argument, it was helpful to meet with the main spokesperson for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, as well as his counterpart from the National Rifle Association. We also met with a Republican Congressman from New Jersey. Perhaps our most fascinating encounters, however, were with the Chief Marshal in charge of protecting the Supreme Court, and with Sari Horwitz, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner for investigative reporting, who worked on a year-long project on gun violence with her colleague David Fallis at the Washington Post.
Early on Thursday we flew to Boston for one last informational meeting, with leading gun-injury researcher, Prof. David Hemenway, at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The debaters dedicated that evening and the following day to revising their cases, ensuring that their writing reflected the insights our meetings had brought them. We still found time, though, to eat dinner at the famous Union Oyster House, sitting in the same booth where John F. Kennedy used to dine.
Hundreds of Lincoln-Douglas debaters packed into the large subterranean space of Harvard’s Northwest Building as the tournament began early Saturday morning. Now in its 42nd year, the Harvard Tournament draws entries from the most successful high-school forensics programs across the United States—and our squad was feeling the pressure. After a full schedule, with three rounds of debate that day, we arrived back at our hotel after 10 p.m. Everyone was, to use a Briticism, well knackered. Up again before 6 a.m., it felt like we had barely slept, and soon we were braving the record-setting -36°F wind chill as we crossed Harvard Yard on our way to further rounds of competition.
The results posted late Sunday afternoon were promising. Our debaters had won most of their debates, and we went to an early dinner hoping that one or two might break into the prize-winning elimination rounds.
With a starting field of over two hundred JV debaters, it would take at least four wins—which Soham S. and Maria D. had so far achieved—to qualify for the next stage of 64 competitors. In addition to their win-loss records, the cut-off would also be based on ‘speaker points’ awarded by the judges.
During dinner we checked for e-updates from the tournament organizers. The results were announced, listing wins and losses, speaker points, and the names of those who had made it into the next round. Those who had earned at least 141 points would advance. Our two leading debaters had each earned a total of… 140! It is worthwhile to note that Ian F. collected 143.5 points out of 150, earning an impressive 19th place out of the field. Unfortunately, his 3-3 record disqualified him for the break.
As tantalizingly close as they came to bringing home trophies, our squad nonetheless took satisfaction in performing so very well their first time out, against some of the best debaters in the country. There were plenty of smiles as we made our way back to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.
The TASIS Speech & Debate Squad are now looking forward to competing in the third full-day tournament of the year in our home league. In addition to Lincoln-Douglas debating, again on the topic of hand guns, the competition will include Public Forum debating and several public-speaking events. A squad of 17 TASIS debaters will go to Marymount International School on Saturday, March 19, to compete against three other London-area schools and two schools visiting from Morocco. We hope you will wish us all luck!