Young debate team racking up wins, gearing towards state finals

The debate team list of idea related to this year's topic.

You’re sitting in Wendy’s, enjoying a box of sea-salted fries. It’s about eight o’clock at night, and you’re famished from almost three straight hours debating. Your coach, Mr. Al VerSchure, is helping you figure out why you lost the debates you lost, and congratulating you on your wins of the evening.

After eating at Wendy’s like you do after every Metro competition, you go back home and start preparing for next week’s debates.

Sound stressful? You got it!

Welcome to the world of Debate.

Debate combines the art of fighting, arguing, and bickering with the intensity of quick-thinking and analyzing to create an intelligent, yet fast-moving, aggressive discussion about a given topic.

“I think the most challenging thing is probably that you have to flow and keep track of everything that you’ve said and what they [the other team] haven’t said,” shared Madison Thurston, a freshman on the team.

Mr. VerSchure, a retired Hamilton High School teacher, comes around every fall to recruit students for the team, which he has coached more than 30 years.

“It’s a lot of work,” Coach VerSchure said, “but I think there’s great rewards in it. You become a better researcher, and a better thinker, and a better speaker. You know how our government works… I think there’s lots of benefits in it.”

This year, the team consists mostly of novice freshmen, including Jeremiah Dekam, Madison Thurston, Zeb Wilson, Teagan Staat, and Sarah Shalte. These determined debaters have debated in the annual Metro League, located this year at the East Kentwood High School.

The team finished Metro winning 8 of their 12 debates. Jeremiah Dekam placed 8th in the novice division out of 44 speakers.

“It was pretty cool,” Dekam said of his achievement. “It was a surprise.”

At their recent weekend event, the MSU Spartan Classic Invitational tournament, the team won two and lost three.

“One of the rounds we lost was to a varsity team from Forest Hills Central,” Coach VerSchure said. “She [the FHN coach] slipped a varsity team down to the JV league.”

For those who have never experienced a debate before, it can seem extremely confusing. However, the breakdown of the competition is fairly simple.

There are two sides in each debate, affirmative and negative. Both competing teams consist of two people who work together to prove their side.

Each year, there is a nationwide topic used in every high school debate for an entire season. The job of the affirmative, or “aff” team, is to formulate a plan that pursues the given topic.

This year, the topic is: Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investments in the United States.

Hamilton’s aff plan for this topic includes building more sidewalks for cyclists and walkers, and narrowing roads to make them more easily accessible to those using the sidewalks.

“We went over a bunch of possible affirmative cases at the beginning of the year, and it was basically her [Madison Thurston’s] choice to go with the one we got,” explained Coach VerSchure.

Thurston obviously has a great taste in plans, because theirs has worked extremely well, according to both her and Coach VerSchure.

The negative, or “neg” team, wins by proving that the aff plan is illegitimate, and there are many different ways they can do this.

The neg team can use DAs, or disadvantages, which say that the aff plan will do more harm than good. Also available is topicality, which allows the neg team to say that the aff plan is off-topic. There are many other strategies the neg can use, and they are all focused on bringing down the aff team’s plan.

So, how do you win a debate?

The aff wins if they prove that their plan is on-topic, and that the benefits of ensuing their plan outweigh the disadvantages.

The neg wins if they can prove that the aff’s plan is inadequate, off-topic, or that its disadvantages outweigh its benefits.

As every debate has a different judge, winning can be difficult. Some judges prefer analytical arguments, which are completely logic-based statements, not backed by evidence. Some judges, however, need evidence or they will completely disregard an analytical, independent on whether it is logical or not.

Debates normally take over an hour, seeing as every person involved must give an eight-minute constructive speech, a four-minute rebuttal speech, and a three-minute cross-examination.

“I thought this team did extremely well this season,” Coach VerSchure said. “We have four people who had never done debate before, and we’re winning half our matches.”

The team meets two or three times per week, for about an hour. During their work sessions, they spend their time gathering evidence, writing arguments, and practicing their speeches.

The team has officially finished all of their Metro and weekend tournaments, and is now geared towards the State Finals. Their last debate will take place on January 4-5, at Eastern Michigan University.




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