Debate team prepares to defend their state first place


Siddharth Dhadi

On Feb. 24, senior and debate head-captain Noyanika Vattathara and junior Tiffany Suarez lay out strategies for team newer team members to follow for competition.

Siddharth Dhadi, Staff Writer

In the midst of college applications, AP classes and other responsibilities, senior and debate team head-captain Noyanika Vattathara finds herself juggling different websites and databases to gather information to prepare for the fifth debate tournament held by the Washington-Arlington Catholic Forensic League (WACFL) on March 19. Her performance in this tournament will dictate if she competes in the next level of competition (super regionals).

“I am using both scholarly sources as well as news sources as my citations to prepare my case,” Vattathara said. “I am also looking at my old debate speeches and competitions to prepare.”

Vattathara usually participates in Lincoln-Douglas (LD) debate; however, other types of debate include Congressional Debate, Public Forum (PF) and Policy Debate. LD debates discuss moral issues. Congressional debates deal with proposed bills in  the U.S. Congress. PF debates are mostly about current events. Policy debates discuss various government and public policies. 

“We have had 4 WACFLs this year,” senior and Congress team captain Manya Phutela said. “But this one is particularly important because our performance in this tournament will decide if we go to regionals.”

Having over four years of experience in debate, Phutela and Vattathara are accustomed to research and can prepare for the competitions themselves. Other members of the team, however, take the help of their team captains to prepare their case.

“I spend about three hours after school every week on debate cases,” sophomore Tanisha Lanaka said. “First I familiarize myself with the topic of the competition. Then I try to find reliable sources to back up my opinion about the issue. Since this is my first year in debate, I rely a lot on the captains to help me with the whole process.”

During the week before competition, the captains check on their team members to make sure everyone is prepared, and if needed, the captains give some final suggestions.

“By the week before competition, everyone is usually all set because by that time, we would have met multiple times to discuss their case and research,” Phutela said.

Having placed first in the state level last year, the captains are looking to defend that title.

“Last year, we had some wonderful and experienced seniors, but this year, we have even more energetic and young debaters,” Phutela said. “And we hope to remain state first.”

While the debate team focuses on the competition, the process of participating in debate entails much more than winning the WACFLs.

“Debate has helped me a lot with my research skills and form strong arguments,” Vattathara said. “But more importantly, through debate, I learned to educate myself about two different sides of the story and understand differing viewpoints.”

After spending hours finding information and practicing speeches, the team members still face a chance of losing the competition. After losing most of the debate competitions in her freshman year, Vattathara was heartbroken. However, she recognizes the importance of those losses.

Winning does not really help you get better at anything, but when you lose something, you are able to look back at your mistakes and improve.

— Noyanika Vattathara

“Winning does not really help you get better at anything,” Vattathara said. “But when you lose something, you are able to look back at your mistakes and improve.” 

The debate team’s weekly meetings on Wednesdays are not just a forum for preparation and research, but also an outlet where the team members grow close and form lasting relationships with one another.

“For me, debate is much more than the competition and research,” junior Nebeela Ahmed said. “I met so many people in debate, and I even met a lifelong friend here.”