Debate Team Excels at Novice National Championship


Debate Team Sees Success at Competition

Lalana Sharma, Assistant News Editor

Sophomore John Morgan and first-year Sihan Wu made it to the Quarter Finals of the Novice National Debate Championship, with Morgan ranking as ninth speaker overall, as a part of the 2020 Cornell Tournament of Love. The tournament was hosted by Cornell University in Ithaca, New York this past weekend from Saturday, Feb. 15 to Sunday, Feb. 16. 

The Novice National Championship is specifically dedicated to novice debaters, defined as debaters in their first academic year in competitive debate. Morgan felt his accomplishments were all the more rewarding due in part to his being a novice debater, as well as the fact that Cornell’s Tournament of Love was a particularly large event.

“I feel really excited because I’ve put a lot of hard work into improving on my debating skills and I saw this tournament as something to validate me for all of the hard work, especially given the fact that this was a national tournament where a lot of teams were coming from across the US and Canada,” Morgan said. “Some of the most prominent schools in attendance were Princeton, Columbia, Duke, McGill University in Canada, andTufts.”

 Five out of the six debaters sent to compete were first-year members of the Colgate team. Colgate Debate Society also sent five judges to the event, including On-Campus Events Coordinator sophomore Anna Ehli. 

“I was so excited to attend Novice Nationals this year, especially because John Morgan and Sihan Wu actually broke into Novice Quarter Finals, and John ranked as the ninth novice speaker overall,” Ehli said. “Both of these were such huge accomplishments and I’m so incredibly proud of the performances of all our debaters who attended. Debate is by no means easy, and it’s so rewarding to see our novices come so far.”

Preparation for this tournament was paramount to the Colgate debate team’s success, as explained by Morgan.

“This tournament was announced around a month before it happened for us, and I didn’t know I was going until around a month ago,” Morgan said. “Debate practice is two times a week and we do different drills to try and help us create different arguments and  cases that we can prepare to handle any sort of topic that comes our way.”

According to Cornell Speech & Debate Society’s Facebook page, the Cornell Tournament of Love is a British Parliamentary tournament. Five preliminary rounds present debaters with various motions, at which point they have 15 minutes to prepare a speech and go through the round with three other teams. Adjudication takes place, ranking teams from best to worst on a scale from one to four, and the top 16 teams subsequently break to out-rounds, otherwise known as Quarter Finals, Semifinals and Finals. 

Motions included a variety of political and pop culture topics, including whether under-represented artists should accept traditional and mainstream accolades such as Oscars and Grammys, whether progressive parties should use religious messaging to actively progress their political ideals and if both climate justice and sustained economic growth can simultaneously exist. Morgan highlights the importance of preparation in the case of motions, as well as the interest they generate. 

“It’s really a variety of different topics; you have to be prepared for anything,” Morgan said. “I thought [the motions] were really interesting. They provided the opportunity to create some really unique arguments and some nuance in debate which I think is really important.”

Aside from breaking into Quarter Finals with teammate Wu, Morgan also ranked ninth as an individual speaker. 

“As an individual speaker, the judge will, along with ranking of each team, determine your individual speaking score for the speech you gave. Those speaking scores range between 65 and 85. An 85 would be amazing, like ‘you’re going to worlds’ incredible. A 65 is [given if] you barely said anything,” Morgan said. “75 is average, but very good for novices. My average was around a 77.6, [which] was my best performance at a tournament so far.”Morgan acknowledges the importance that debate plays within his life through the larger community he’s now become part of, with this sentiment being echoed by Wu.

“I think debate has weirdly become an important part of my life. I’ve  gotten to meet a lot of really cool people both on the debate team here at school but also the other debaters who I meet at the tournaments. The people that I’ve debated against have been really genuinely nice and it’s such a welcoming community, so I feel really glad to be a part of it,” Morgan said. 

“Debate is what I’m passionate about, thus receiving this acknowledgment in debate is especially  meaningful to me. As an ESL speaker, adaptation to new linguistic and cultural environment was one of my reasons for debate, yet one of the strongest obstacles that I faced in debate. My debate experience taught me how to properly cope with self-criticism and reconcile with myself, which is a precious gift besides improved logic and public speaking skills,” Wu said. “I’m genuinely grateful to this motivating, inclusive, and heart-warming Colgate debate society; only with their steady help and support did I have the courage to step out of [my] comfort zone and make all this possible.”

Upcoming events for Debate include Nationals and the Colgate Open  Tournament, hosted by Colgate on Saturday, April 11 and Sunday, April 12. This tournament attracts teams on an international scale to Colgate’s campus, with over 40 teams representing over 20 institutions from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom competing in past Open tournaments.