Debate Tournament on Zoom

Brett Donshik '21, Staff Writer

Solid arguments and eloquent speaking do not stop for the coronavirus. Last weekend, four advanced Loomis Chaffee debaters took part in a virtual debate tournament hosted by Westfield Academy.

The Loomis debate team put two teams together to compete in the varsity division of this two day, five-round preliminary tournament, one consisting of Aidan Gillies ’21 and Eleanor Peters ’20 and the other consisting of Lily Potter ’21 and Clara Chen ’21. With this structure, each team competed in four preliminary round-robin rounds on day one, before competing in the last round on the second day. The top eight teams then moved onto the quarterfinal round.

The Loomis teams found success in the initial rounds. Aidan Gillies and Eleanor Peters were the only team to go undefeated in the preliminary rounds and therefore advanced to the quarterfinals. However, once they reached the quarterfinals, they lost to a team that they had previously beaten earlier in the tournament and were unable to advance. Aidan also won 8th overall speaker, a new award in this format.

The other team went 3-2 in the preliminary rounds, but found themselves right at the cutoff of the final bracket in ninth place overall. Despite the disappointment, Clara Chen was pleased with her team’s performance.

“We were ninth place and the top eight teams break. It was a bit sad, but we did well otherwise,” Clara said.

The change to the new format opened a door of innovations to the debate community. Due to the virtual nature of the event, a more diverse group of students were able to take part in this debate compared to a normal weekend tournament, drawing students from seven U.S states and three Canadian provinces. Also, Westfield was able to find over 30 collegiate debaters nationwide to judge the event who were given 15 minutes after every round to provide detailed feedback to the competitors.

However, there were some challenges in transitioning over to a new debate format. For one, the breakout rooms were difficult to manage throughout the day due to the need for constant rotation, and because of how the app functioned, debate teams had to have a separate device to video chat in order to prepare. Also, wi-fi connectivity issues forced some participants to stop part way through a speech, only managing to continue once they had reconnected.

“One of the Westfield students was the tournament technology organizer, and he was really great at maneuvering all 110 debators into the breakout rooms,” Aidan said, complimenting Westfield’s handling of these challenges.

In the coming months, Northfield Mount Hermon is planning on hosting a virtual speech tournament, and there are talks that the Connecticut Debate Association state finals may be held online as well. Aidan Gillies is looking forward to the prospect of more tournaments and was very satisfied with Westfield’s transition to the new format.

“I would say that this was a very educational tournament,” Aidan said. “I honestly think Westfield did a fantastic job. It was as smooth as any [normal] debate tournament.”