Webb Debate Team Participates in First League Tournament


Taya Sibichenkova

Mirabel Raphael (‘24), Jacky Qi (‘25), and Sebastian Hazlett (‘24), stand together as a team at Al’s Patio

On October 24th at 8:15 am, dozens of Webb team debaters gathered in front of the Liu Cheung Theater, busy exchanging ideas and discussing their thoughts. Unbothered by the cold weather, these passionate students were eager to participate in their first league debate tournament of the school year.
Despite Webb’s transition to in-person learning, this tournament was held virtually on Zoom, consisting of numerous other schools such as Sierra Canyon, LILA, and Oaks Christian.

Webb students had about a month to research and prepare for the two preannounced topics: “The U.S. Constitution should prohibit supermajority legislative votes in Congress” and “Facebook does more harm than good.” In addition to these topics, there were also two impromptu motions: “High school students should be required to demonstrate foreign language fluency” and “U.S. Permanent Residents should be able to vote.”

The debaters put in a lot of time and effort into the preparation process; over the course of several weeks, they thoroughly researched the topics, collected the best supporting evidence, and refined their arguments.

“There were two practices before the debate, where we got to do a mock debate with our individual teams,” Aiperi Bush (‘24) said. “Afterwards, the entire group collectively made a google doc to put all our research in, and we reviewed it to decide which arguments worked best for each side.”
It was a wonderful opportunity for Webb students to gain more debating experience and improve their communication skills in a collaborative environment.

“I thought it was great how efficiently everyone was able to work during the prep time for the impromptu rounds,” said Mirabel Raphael (‘24).

However, the Zoom format was drastically different from in-person debate tournaments and presented several challenges.

“People tend to slack a little bit in terms of topic preparation…people don’t really digest the information as much as they do when they have to write it down and memorize,” said Leslie Huh (‘22), a captain of the debate team.

Zoom debates also change the rules for impromptu rounds. In previous years, impromptus emphasized improvisational thinking, so students were required to produce arguments independently without relying on the internet. With online tournaments, students now have full access to the internet, something that results in unintended repercussions.

“Usually, you don’t have access to any outside resources, but now you do have access to the internet…it changes the core value of impromptu,” Leslie said.

Leslie’s point refers to the principle that students are supposed to utilize logic in impromptu debates, instead of hastily researching twenty minutes before the actual tournament.
Moreover, COVID-19 restrictions created several inconveniences that negatively affected students’ performances.

“Everyone would have to go out of the room before their teammates gave a speech so that they could take their masks off during the speech,” Mirabel said. “Some would even give their speech with their masks on, which could be disruptive to the judge being able to understand you without seeing your mouth moving.”

Mirabel’s own experience was especially challenging. Having to do the online tournament at her house, she was only able to communicate with her teammates over text and call, which created many restrictions.

Despite the challenges, all the Webb debaters improved immensely and undoubtably enjoyed the tournament overall.

“I do enjoy debate very much,” Kevin Wang (‘24) said. “I see it as a very fun and exciting activity”

“My favorite part in debate is when you think of a really good POI… you can stop the best debater in their tracks, and it’s really fun to see them stop and think for a moment,” Leslie said.

The highlight of Sunday’s tournament was the multiple awards that individual Webb students and teams received. In speaker awards, Jenny Wang (‘24) ranked 15th, Hanson Hu (‘23) ranked ninth place, and Leslie Huh (‘22) eighth place. Dayun Suh (‘24) also ranked second place in the Novice Speakers category. Impressively, Mirabel Raphael received the top speaker award, scoring first place in the tournament overall.

While researching for this tournament, students gained a lot of knowledge on the various topics and became more aware of their surroundings.

“In preparing for the debate tournament, I would start to notice things around me that were related to the topic,” Mirabel said. “I would keep seeing news stories about Facebook privacy scandals.”

Indeed, the tournament offered what is perhaps the best of what we can expect from any debate competition right now, given all the COVID restrictions. Perhaps in the future as life eases back to normal, conditions will gradually improve, and Webb debaters will have the chance to display their skills in person.