Debate Dream Team is Heading to the Tournament of Champions
by Sophie Lee
As a Northside student, there is a good chance that you have, at some point, been wandering through the English-wing after school and overheard a group of students speaking at a mind-numbing pace while others look on, contemplatively. You will be happy to learn that there is in fact a method behind the madness and it has led two of Northside’s fiercest debaters to the Tournament of Champions. Luther Snagel, Adv. 800, and Aidan Kane, Adv. 808, are only the second team in Northside history to make it this far in their debate season.
When asked for a brief background on the inner workings of high school debate, Kane and Snagel launch into their explanation with such fervor that it appears they may have been waiting their entire lives for precisely this opportunity. Snagel began with, “I’m sorry, it's really complicated. We need to explain this.”
Here is an oversimplification of what they said: Tournaments are held around the country in which pairs of debaters compete for one of the top slots on a bracket. In each round, one pair of students is the “affirmative” team and will offer up their position on a topic. It is then the other pair’s job to negate their argument to the best of their ability. If a pair of students ends up being one of the best at a tournament, they will get what is called a “bid.” If the pair get two bids, they earn the opportunity to attend the Tournament of Champions, in which the best teams from across the country compete for the top spot.
Snagel and Kane were lucky enough to collect their first bid at their first tournament of the year, and just landed the second one at their most recent tournament. Although they didn’t expect to get this far, they were determined from the start. “At the competition prior, we messed up real bad. We were angry and we looked at each other and went, ‘We’re getting a bid at the next tournament,’” Kane explained. They were able to gain this second bid without losing a single round, leaving Kane as the seventh best speaker at the tournament and Snagel as the first. Judges will select the best speakers based on their persuasiveness and argument organization, amongst other factors. Kane said, “It’s pretty subjective.” Yet, Snagel added, “Generally, judges know who’s pretty good.” He says it was “crazy” winning the Lance Todd Top Speaker Award, as he wasn’t expecting it. Snagel said, “When I went up to get the top speaker award the jovial guy who does the announcing of who gets the speaker awards handed me the plaque, shook my hand and held me in and was like, ‘This is very important,’ and I was like, ‘Oh sh*t okay!’”
Both Kane and Snagel joined the debate team their freshman year, although neither of them really knew what to expect. Snagel said, “I had no idea why I wanted to join the debate team. I had no idea what I was in for,” to which Kane promptly said, “Because you’re you!” Snagel then replied, “I thought, ‘I’m argumentative!’” He recounts his first interactions with the debate team saying, “I remember freshman year I came to the debate room every day on the week they were having the debate interest meeting because I couldn’t remember what day it was and I didn’t want to miss it so I just kept going and they kept telling me to go away.” Kane had a much more typical high school introduction to the team, remembering, “I was forced into it by a friend who graduated last year, and then I liked it.”
Whatever the driving force to join, both Kane and Snagel have stuck with it for all four years, and formed their debate duo last season. Finding that they worked well together and had a similar style in approaching their topics of debate, they decided to stay together this year, a choice that has obviously paid off for the both of them. “We’re kind of rebels in the debate community as it were,” Snagel announced, while elaborating on their methods of debate. By this he meant that the two of them have found a strategy that, while slightly unorthodox, works best with their interests. Every year there is a different central topic in the debate world. This year that topic is education, and the prompt, according to Snagel, reads, “The United States Federal Government should substantially increase its regulation and/or funding of its primary and/or secondary education.” Every team puts in a considerable amount of man hours researching this topic and preparing for any possible angle another team could take in a round of debate. Snagel elaborates, “Every word in it is really important to normal people. Not us, we don’t really care that much. All that matters to us is the word education.” Kane then said, “The thing that he’s getting at is that since debate is obviously not like ‘You must do that,’ it’s open to interpretation. I guess the best way we can put it is that we put more of a philosophical lens onto it. So we sort of critique the way the resolution is thought of.”
The ability to take any angle on education and always bring new ideas to the tournaments seems to be the thing that keeps debate the most interesting. Although it also seems to be the biggest challenge, as it should be impossible to prepare yourself for whatever a team might bring up next. However, it seems that there are certain strategies in place to help with this. “There’s a thing called the wiki where the community norm is that you upload arguments you’ve read previously so other people can see,” explains Snagel. Although this is a huge aid, Kane also explains that teams sometimes pull out new topics and you are forced to adapt quickly. To manage this, teams will have a few generic arguments that can apply to a broad range of ideas. Snagel resolves that, “Everything is beatable. There is no unbeatable argument. It’s a game.”
In looking ahead, the duo made sure to mention that they have another competition coming up in February. Snagel says, “Alex Pinheiro (Adv. 907) and Magalie Ortiz (Adv. 911): shout them out in your article. They’re also going because that’s a tournament where we have a pretty good shot at getting another [bid] for them, and another one for us because we might as well.” Kane then adds, “If that happens it’d be the first time two teams from Northside went to the Tournament of Champions at the same time.” When asked about how they feel headed to the Tournament of Champions, Snagel said, “There’s a lot to look forward to and a lot to be scared of.” Kane said, “I feel satisfied because making it to the Tournament of Champions in and of itself is an accomplishment.” For their closing statements, Kane made sure to add, “Be a plug! Join debate it’s not too late.” If you have a chance, wish these two good luck at their upcoming competitions!