Last Wednesday, students of the Old Rochester Regional debate team completed their undefeated season with an incredible win at the Eastern Massachusetts Debate League championships.
The tenth and final debate of the season, consisting of the top two teams in the league, was ORR negative team John Hewitt and Justin Smilan against ORR affirmative team Ruhi Raje and Emily Audet. This is only the second time in the Eastern Massachusetts Debate League history that the top two teams were from the same school. While each side put in their best efforts, affirmative team Raje and Audet came out victorious.
The top two teams also made ORR debate history by being the first undefeated four-person team. A four-person team is defined as the affirmatives and negatives that comprise a debate. Audet and Raje also won best affirmative two-person team, while Hewitt and Smilan won best negative two-person team. Other members of debate also placed in regards to speaking points. The trophies are on display in ORRHS’s library.
“Old Rochester debate has always been one of the strong teams in the Eastern Massachusetts Debate League,” said debate team coach Colin Everett, “I was satisfied with their performance. They did well; they worked hard. As an advisor, or perhaps as a coach, that’s what you work toward, so there was a sense of fulfillment that they reached that goal.”
The students were also immensely proud to have had such a successful season. “We really swept the top, which is amazing,” said Raje.
Each spring, the debate team receives the next year’s resolution, or topic of debate. The topic can be regarding international engagement, science and technology, or social and domestic affairs.
“This year it was resolve ‘the United States federal government will establish a policy that substantially increases its economic engagement in one or more of the following countries: Venezuela, Mexico, or Cuba.’ So we had to learn about what existing policies existed in Venezuela, Mexico, and Cuba, what had been tried, what worked and what didn’t work,” said Everett. “That’s a lot of policy to digest.”
The debate team spends its time during weekly meetings reading about these policies and discussing them. Then, at the beginning of the next year, the students split themselves into two-person teams that stay together for the entirety of the year. They can choose to be affirmative (arguing for the resolution), or negative (arguing against the resolution). The affirmatives have to create one big plan regarding the resolution, while the negatives have to consider all possible plans and create arguments against each.
“The negative team has more of a ‘thinking on your feet’ type of role,” explained Audet.
Along with this, there are five stock issues, or items you have to account for in the debate. The first is “topicality”: Does your plan address the resolve? The second is “inherency”: If your plan is effective, why hasn’t it already been put into action? The third is “need for change”: Why is there a problem with the present circumstances? The fourth is “solvency”: How does your plan solve the problem? The fifth and final stock issue is “disadvantages”: How do you address the flaws in your plan?
“There’s a joke in debate that if your plan, or if your disadvantage, doesn’t directly link to nuclear war in three steps or less, you’re doing it wrong,” laughed Raje. This base rule leads to some strong and interesting arguments. In all seriousness though, the debaters must consider all of the stock issues in order to have a solid foundation.
“The affirmatives have to win every single stock issue, so your plan has to be foolproof, and what the negatives have to do is they have to poke at least one hole in your plan,” said Raje. “As an affirmative, you have more time to plan, but you also have more of the burden of proof.”
When the debate team is given the next year’s resolution, they are also given affirmative booklets outlining five possible plans and negative booklets containing the disadvantages to these plans. Raje and Audet, however, chose to ignore these outlines.
“What we did this year is we completely wrote our plan from scratch. Every single piece of evidence we had to find by ourselves,” said Raje, “It really paid off in the long run because it wasn’t something that people were expecting, and we knew the topic very well because we did all the work.”
Raje and Audet also had an advantage because they chose to argue for economic engagement in Venezuela, while the majority of the plans in the booklet regarded Mexico and Cuba.
“When we got to debates, most of them didn’t have all that much [evidence] on Venezuela and didn’t know much about it,” recalled Audet.
Raje and Audet definitely earned their undefeated run this year. They began researching in the summer, and after months of collecting evidence and creating a plan, they were well-prepared for their first debate in December.
Even so, Raje made it clear that writing a plan is an ongoing process. After each of the year’s nine debates, they noted their weaknesses and collected more evidence to strengthen their argument. Raje and Audet were working hard right up to their debate last Wednesday.
“Tuesday night we were emailing evidence to each other, and on Wednesday we were printing it,” said Audet.
Nerves were high when the day of the final debate finally arrived, but once the debating started, Raje said she fell into a focused mindset. “You get quite the adrenaline rush actually, during the debate,” said Audet.
In the end, their endless hours of research and preparation paid off. They faced strong opponents along the way, but they remained undefeated. “One of the strongest teams in the league is Hingham,” said Raje. “That was challenging.”
Finally, in the last round, it came down to Hewitt and Smilan versus Raje and Audet. The top two teams are decided by who has the most wins, but if this statistic is tied, the top team is chosen by speaker points. These speaker points are awarded every match – the number depending on how convincing and charismatic the student was.
Raje and Audet were the only undefeated affirmative team in the league, so they were automatically first for affirmatives. For the negatives, however, there were three undefeated teams. Hewitt and Smilan were ranked number one because they had the largest number of speaking points by a sizable margin.
For the final debate, the ORR teams had the option to let one side step down – due to the fact they’re from the same school and the negatives knew most of the affirmatives’ plan – but each decided to stay.
“It was really, really hard to get cross-examined by John and Justin,” recalled Raje.
Each team was there to win, managing to maintain a professional attitude despite the fact they’re all friends. Still, it was Raje and Audet who were named champions of the Eastern Massachusetts Debate League.
“The affirmatives and the negatives put in a tremendous amount of work learning about the policy, and in addition to that they’ve had a tremendous amount of experience speaking,” said Everett of his top debaters, “You can know all the policy in the world, but if you can’t communicate concisely and effectively, then you’re not going to go far.”
Luckily the top teams have had plenty of practice – Raje, Audet, and Smilan have all been on the debate team for four years now. With such a successful high school career, Raje and Audet are both hoping to continue debate in college next year. They also look forward to the opportunity of being volunteer judges for some of next year’s high school debates.
So what’s next for ORR’s debate team? “This year, we’ve gotten a lot of freshmen, which is very, very encouraging,” said Raje, “I think some of the freshmen are doing better than we did freshman year.”
“Come a few years, they’re going to be way up there I’m sure,” agreed Audet.
Everett was also very proud of his younger students. He said, “I was particularly impressed with our freshmen debaters, most notably James Goulart, who is the number one ranked novice affirmative speaker in the entire league, and Sahil Raje, who is the number five ranked novice affirmative speaker in the league. We have other promising freshmen, and we have some juniors who will be becoming seniors next year who have a good future ahead of them as well.”
In other news, ORR’s mock trial team had a tie-breaker trial last Wednesday, but unfortunately did not continue their undefeated season. The tie-breaker was against Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School’s mock trial team at the Fall River courthouse. Due to their loss, ORR’s team will not be moving onto regionals this year.
Mock trial will be having a debriefing meeting to end their season and discuss how to improve in future years. Michael Linane, one of the advisors for ORR’s mock trial club, said he feels the team struggled with knowing when to call objections.
Mock trial team also had an issue with attendance for this final trial. Many of the most experienced students had conflicting obligations due to the fact that the news of the tie-breaker came on Monday, just two days before the trial. Students had to switch around roles in the trial in order to cover for the absent students.
Next year, mock trial is looking to have an even more successful season. They are considering scheduling scrimmages with other schools before their first trial in order to gain experience for their younger members.
As for upcoming events, the student versus teacher basketball game is tomorrow, Friday, March 7 at 7:00 pm. Proceeds benefit the junior and senior classes.
By Renae Reints