Motivated debate team seeks strong finish


The debate team returns from a tournament at the University of Pennsylvania in February 2020.

Ben Schneider, Chronicle Staff Writer

From the first tournaments in early autumn to qualifiers for national competitions in the spring, the Clover Hill Debate Team has worked tirelessly throughout the year to deliver strong performances.

The Cavaliers modified their approach to fit the new circumstances and found a way to thrive on the road to a great season. A significant advantage of this year’s entirely virtual season is that the debaters could select competitions all over the country that aligned with their interests and abilities. Those new to the team were able to participate in smaller, local competitions, while seasoned veterans ventured out to tournaments held by big colleges that were previously less accessible due to distance. 

Debate team coach Hunter Clark led the debaters as they competed in a range of competitions including multi-day tournaments hosted by distant colleges such as Duke and Yale, and local debate events within the state of Virginia. 

“We’ve had some success,” Clark said. “We’ve had students win some local tournaments.”

The typical debate season is lengthy and lasts for most of the school year, especially if any debaters qualify for national competitions. 

“If someone qualifies for nationals, then those would be in June,” Clark said. “We had two debaters that competed at the national tournament last June.”

According to Clark, the team participates in three styles of debate: public forum, Lincoln-Douglas, and congressional debate. 

“The amount of time and practice depends on which type of debate you’re participating in,” Clark said. “In public forum debate, you have a partner and debate a different topic every month. Lincoln-Douglas is one on one, so it’s just one person debating another person on a topic. That lasts for two months. Congressional debate is like a simulated congressional debate, so you have a group of people that is discussing proposed legislation that the students create.” 

The team recently competed in the VHSL 5B regional tournament, where they won first place in all three forms of debate on their way to a victory in the competition. According to Clark, the debaters then turned their attention to the next competition. 

“We competed in the Virginia CFL state tournament,” Clark said. “One of our senior Lincoln-Douglas debaters, Katy Stenner, was undefeated and placed first. Our Public Forum team of Nadara Hudson and Vinata Kondragunta also went undefeated and placed second. All three debaters qualified for the CFL National tournament in May.”

The Clover Hill debate team has only four remaining competitions as this year’s season moves towards its conclusion.

“Our remaining tournaments are: VHSL Super-Regionals [4/10], NSDA Districts [4/17], VHSL State Championships [4/23-4/24], and NCFL Nationals [5/30-5/31],” Clark said.

Sophomore Maggie Matzen, who won several competitions, considers this season to be a success.

“This year’s debate season went pretty well for me competition-wise and was filled with great learning experiences,” Matzen said.

Senior Alysha Akhtar also believes that the debate season went well and was able to debate several interesting subjects.

“This season went well,” Akhtar said. “I was able to learn about and debate new topics from a federal jobs guarantee to lethal autonomous weapons.” 

According to the debaters, it takes considerable preparation to excel at debate. Each member of the debate team used research and practice to ensure that they were ready to compete.

“I did a lot of research on each topic,” Akhtar said. “I wrote my own cases while I developed counterarguments against potential cases my opponents might have.” 

Matzen used hard work and dedicated preparation to build on her previous year and deliver what she believes to be her best performances yet. 

“The competitions I won were amazing. Last year, I didn’t have the same success as I did this year, and it was a really new exciting feeling to do so well,” Matzen said.

The debate team found ways to work together despite having to remain apart for the entirety of the season.

“In preparation to compete this year, over the summer I did the Richmond Debate Institute camp with some of my fellow team members,” Matzen said. “We also met weekly to prep for individual competitions over zoom.”

The coronavirus pandemic has necessitated that debate be entirely virtual this year, which has both presented obstacles and opened new avenues for the team. 

“Usually we would travel to whatever college or group is hosting them, but because it’s all on-screen we could compete in a lot more out-of-state events,” Matzen said. “There was much more of a disconnect between members of the team, but we still tried our best to work together.”

According to Akhtar, this year’s debate season had a completely different atmosphere even though the basic structure remained normal. 

“It was definitely a big change because the debate rounds were all conducted through virtual meetings,” Akhtar said. “The general round structure remained the same, but it felt very different debating from my house as opposed to a school.” 

Clark sees the benefits that debate offers to students and enjoys helping them improve.

“I enjoy helping students find their own voices,” Clark said. “I do see people open up and get more articulate and ready to speak up for themselves.”

Akhtar, like many members of the team, enjoys debate and believes that it offers an opportunity for personal growth.

“Debate has made me much more informed and open-minded because, for any given topic, I have to develop a thorough understanding of two opposing perspectives,” Akhtar said. “Also, I love that debate gives me the opportunity to meet new people from other schools.” 

With the debate team’s large senior class set to graduate, next year is a perfect opportunity to prepare for the future. 

“We will need new people and I think it will be a rebuilding year,” Clark said. “Recruiting new people and keeping new people engaged was hard virtually. So I’m hoping that being back in the building will help our recruiting of younger people to participate.”

Clark encourages students who are interested in joining the debate team to begin early. 

“Next year we’ll start having meetings by the end of September, so my best advice is to get started early when we’re going over the basics,” Clark said. “So come to the early meetings, they’re open to anybody. [Interested students] can just email me [[email protected]] if they want to know more about when we’re meeting.”

Following the success of this year, the members of the debate team are motivated to return for another season.

“Whether it’s in person or virtual, I’m excited to continue debating for Clover Hill,” Matzen said.