Byram Hills Team Debates in National Championship
By Sam Donsky, Student Intern
July 15, 2015
On June 14, the Byram Hills High School Debate Team traveled to Dallas, Texas to compete in the 2015 National Speech and Debate Tournament. The team, led by High School Senior Brandon Jones, had the experience of a lifetime.
“The Byram Hills debate team is divided into Public Forum debate, which I do, which is 2v2 and revolves around current events, and Lincoln-Douglas, which is 1v1 and philosophical debate,” said Brandon. “Public Forum and Lincoln Douglas each had two captains and as Team Captain, I was responsible for overseeing them.”
The BHHS debate team had approximately 25 tournaments this past season. Those tournaments, on top of the days of preparation, took up a lot of time for those involved. This past year alone, the debate team traveled to Colorado, Florida, Las Vegas, Texas, Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut before qualifying for the national tournament.
This year was the first year that Byram Hills High School qualified for the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) National Championship. In March, there was a tournament at Pelham High School for teams in the New York State district to qualify for Nationals. There were about 12 teams there and it was double-elimination: lose two rounds and you are out. Brandon’s usual partner and Public Forum Captain Max Rothschild wasn't able to attend due to a tennis tournament, so he debated with a relatively inexperienced partner. “We lost the first round and won the next four against some of the best teams in the state. At the time, we were told that only one team from our district would qualify to Nationals.” He reflected, “We went up against a Horace Mann team in the finals and lost on a 2-1 decision (there are three judges in the final rounds).”
But then, Brandon received some very surprising news. “On April 1, I got a call from my coach, Janna White, who ecstatically exclaimed that she got an email from the tournament's director who said that since the teams of our district have grown significantly in size and competitiveness since last year, the NSDA were now allowing two teams to qualify to Nationals,” Brandon said. “At first I was skeptical since it was April Fool's Day, but then my coach forwarded me the email and I saw it was legitimate. I was so thrilled because I thought my debate career was coming to an end, but now I knew I would have the chance to compete one last time at the most challenging stage in the debate world.” Brandon was the first student to qualify in Byram Hills history. “I felt as if qualifying to Nationals was the perfect way for me to end debate which has been such a big piece of my life for the past four years.”
The National tournament was attended by 273 teams from all across the nation. It consisted of six preliminary rounds featuring two judges in each. In order to advance past Round 6 onto the elimination rounds, teams would have to have at least 8 of their 12 total judges vote for them. This meant that only 20% of the competing teams would "break" to elimination rounds. After Round 6, the tournament moved to the Double-Elimination style where you lose two rounds and you are out.
Brandon went into the tournament with no expectations. “This tournament was more of a celebratory way to close out our time with debate,” Brandon said with a smile. “While we tried our hardest and are now experts on anonymous speech, we didn't get the votes of the 8 judges so our journey ended early in Dallas. However, we did get to meet the best and the brightest from each and every state and around the world as well.” And, of course, they spent a good amount of time experiencing Dallas. They even visited the George W. Bush Presidential Library and the historic Dealey Plaza. “We also had an entire farm's worth of burgers, ribs, and steak,” Brandon laughed. “All in all, it was the perfect way to close out an activity that has made so much of an impact on me throughout my four years of high school.”