Debate class fosters sense of community

Noura Jabir and Video Staff

Filmed and edited by Will McKone

This piece was originally published in the March 2, 2018 issue of the Review. 

Early in the morning, while half of the debate team was still groggy, Pranav Konduri was busy playing devil’s advocate. The sophomore was on his feet, working the room and challenging debate coach Andrew Stubbs.

Stubbs tried to explain what could have been a simple lesson, but the conversation became a mini-debate with Konduri questioning the logic of his argument. Stubbs remained patient, providing a level-headed response to Konduri’s every word.

Some students sat quietly at their computers, researching their cases. Stubbs inquired students about debaters from other schools; trying to rouse the sleepy team. About 10 minutes in, the debaters began to wake up, their conversation growing livelier.

For the debate team, meeting early in the morning was not possible until last year when a change to the master schedule gave the program the protected time they needed to recruit more members.

Debate has always been a club with participation limited by the time restrictions of those who wanted to participate. When the master schedule was implemented in 2016, the debate class was given three Ensemble and Da Vinci periods per cycle for students to meet with coaches and teammates.

During class time, members of the debate team exchange ideas about their individual and group arguments, discuss strategy for upcoming tournaments and work with Stubbs and faculty sponsors Alice Fogler (’10) and Clay Guinn (’92).

Senior captain Andrew Wan notes that it can take up to three weeks to fully prepare for a tournament.

“With the hectic schedule, it’s nice just to have a set time to work on debate,” Wan said. “Even if you don’t get to work on debate as much as you like during the week, you’ll always have that class time set aside.”

Another benefit of having class time for debate is that students can properly prepare for the weekly debate tournaments in the Houston area and across the country.

Last month, 11 members of the team traveled to Harvard University for one of the largest tournaments of the year. Sophomore Mehak Batra earned a gold bid, the highest award any SJS debater has won this year. Two gold bids qualify a debater for the Tournament of Champions. Novice sophomore debaters Reeti Mangal and Jack Kagan advanced to the double octafinals.

Caroline Ramirez
Debate coach Andrew Stubbs advises senior team captain Andrew Wan on his case. Since the implementation of the new schedule, the debate program has grown, leading students to garner a number of awards at local tournaments.

As of February, five debaters have earned a spot in the Tournament of Champions, hosted at the University of Kentucky in April. The qualifying students are Batra, Konduri, sophomores Asher Moll and Robert Garza and junior captain Clara Brotzen-Smith.

The team is excited to debate some of the best in the country.

“The judges there are generally very experienced,” Moll said. “So it will be nice to be able to get valuable criticism from them.”

A talented group of sophomores represent the future of the team, according to Wan, who said that their strength is their versatility, excelling in both partner and individual events.

“Debate tends to be an all-encompassing term,” Konduri said. “There are specific categories within debate, but many people don’t realize that it’s not just one thing.”

Konduri and his partner Asher Moll compete together in public forum as well as individually in extemporaneous speaking, an event in which debaters are given 30 minutes to prepare an impromptu argument on a current event topic.

Guinn helped bring in Stubbs, a debate specialist, to coach the team. Before joining the program, Stubbs had worked with many members of the team individually outside of school. Stubbs was an accomplished high school debater and former coach at Kingwood High School.

A pair of SJS alumni, Guinn and Fogler, create a supportive space in which students can flourish. Guinn, an English teacher, started as debate team sponsor in 2015. Fogler, a math teacher, joined in 2016. According to Stubbs,“They have done a wonderful job at ensuring that the classroom is a learning environment.”

Members of the team have won an array of local honors, including two first-place wins at the Dekaney and Dobie High School tournaments. Konduri and Moll earned first place in public forum at Elkins and placed first in policy at a tournament in Katy.

As April approaches, debate activity reaches its peak. Tournaments become more rigorous, and debaters have more opportunities to gain recognition.

While students welcome success, they have not lost sight of what drew them to debate in the first place.

“Debate offers you life skills and gives you a forum to try out new ideas on people and see how they’re received before applying them to your real life,” Garza said. “You learn how to appeal to all types of people.”

Guinn explained that while victories are nice, they are not the main goal.

“I want students to feel that they have a group of friends and sort of a community around debate,” Guinn said. “And if they happen to find victories along the way, that’s great.”