SBRHS Debate Team Battles over the Topic of Education


From left to right: Jillian Cabral, Benjamin Chase, Jillian Platt, Jacob Biello, Maxwell Cabana, Ryan Silverman, Jaden Cranshaw, Rebecca Donovan, Cassandra Pay, Maya Newhook, Abigail Montag (not pictured) and Santiago Abril (not pictured).

Colby Yokell, Co-Editor

This year, the Somerset Berkley Regional High School debate team has battled about this year’s resolve: the federal government should increase funding and/or regulation to elementary and secondary education.

“I give the students a lot of credit,” Benjamin Chase, the advisor of the SBRHS debate team, said. “I don’t care if they win or lose the debate. I just want them to have confidence, to stand up tall, to project themselves, to have a strong voice, and to be extremely respectful.”

The SB debate team had a clean sweep during their first meet of the year, winning every debate they participated in in the meet. The rest of the season has been pretty mixed in regards to individual teams’ victories and losses. The debate season started in November, typically with two debates per month.

The SBRHS debate team has faced schools such as Old Rochester Regional High School, New Bedford High School, Bishop Stang High School, Durfee High School, and Bishop Connolly High School.

“It’s fun and I love how there’s allotted times to speak, so it’s not like a class or informal debate where people start to talk over each other,” junior Ryan Silverman, the negative captain, said.

The debate team has ten members, composed of one varsity affirmative, one varsity negative, one novice affirmative, and one novice negative team. Each team contains two students, who usually compete in two debates per meet. There are five meets per season.

However, during the last debate, instead of each team competing twice, they only compete once. The second debate takes place between the top two teams at the meet, and everyone else gets to watch.

“It’s a lot of thinking on your feet, practicing connecting to your audience, and having good, clear ideas, researching your topic, having a huge amount of background knowledge on the topic and on your policy. It’s intellectual gymnastics,” Chase said.

An affirmative team constructs a plan beforehand that addresses the year’s resolve. This plan is judged during the debates on five things: solvency (whether the plan solves the problem), topicality (whether the plan is on topic), inherency (whether there are any inherent barriers and why the plan is not already in place), need for change (why things need to be different), and disadvantages (the negative team can prove there are certain disadvantages that overshadow everything else and therefore win the point).

These five things are called stock issues or contentions. In order to win the debate, the affirmative team must win all five stock issues. If the negative team is able to steal just one point away from the affirmative team, they win the debate.

As an affirmative, “you go in knowing what you’re talking about,” junior Jillian Cabral, the affirmative captain, said. “With the negative team, you have to be prepared to react.”

Each debate lasts for a little over an hour. The debate begins with the affirmative team’s constructive, in which they read their plan to the negative team and the judge.

“As an affirmative, you have to stick to what’s in your plan,” Cabral said. “If it’s not in your plan, it’s like you’re making things up on the spot, and you’re not allowed to do that.”

The affirmative constructive is followed by the negative team’s cross examination, where they get to ask one of the affirmative team members questions and poke holes in the affirmative team’s plan.

“There’s a small chance that you can have evidence that can go against their plan,” Silverman said. “When you don’t have research on something, the one thing you can do is try to use the other team’s arguments against them or use logic.”

After, the negative team has their constructive, which is an argument why the affirmative team’s plan would not work. The affirmative team then gets to cross examine one member of the negative team. This process repeats a few times until the closing rebuttals. During the rebuttals, each individual gets to refute the opposite side’s arguments.

“You have to do a lot of stuff in debate on the spot, especially as a negative, because you don’t have stuff pre-written and you could be walking into any plan,” Silverman said.

Throughout the season, the debate team at SBRHS has been continuing their research and bettering their tactics.

“You continue making changes to your plan to make it better, so you don’t ever really stop working on your plan,” Cabral said.

This year, the resolve differs from the typical ones that have appeared in the recent past, most of which have had to do with political diplomacy.

“Education has been great because it’s been stuff that actually applies,” Silverman said. “It’s more interesting when it affects you.”

This year was the first that Chase was the advisor for the debate team. Chase said, at the beginning of the year, debate was totally new to him. However, since then, he has sat through five or six judges’ tutorials and has judged eight to ten debates.

He hopes that the students enjoy the social aspect of the debate. However, he said he really hopes that the students carry themselves with a degree of integrity and respect, no matter who they are debating.

Cabral said that she wants to have a career as a translator or an interpreter. For her, the public speaking skills she has learned from debate has “helped with my confidence in my ability to talk to other people.”

Chase said he chose Silverman and Cabral as captains this year because “they had pretty much the most experience of students coming in. They came up to me and expressed interest to me about being captains,” Chase said. “At that point, I really needed help to run the club.”

The first debate that the SB debate team participated in this season was a profound moment for Chase. He said he was nervous and did not really know what to expect. As the team began receiving the ballots and the results showed win after win, Chase could not believe it because he had viewed the SB debate team as an underdog.

As the last ballot came in as a win, everyone began cheering and jumping up and down. “That was a huge victory and it felt really good,” Chase said. “It felt really cool to be a part of it.”

“We recognize a lot of the competition in our high school as being physical and athletic competition,” Chase said, “but the thrill of victory you see when these students win a debate is, I think, on par with the thrill that athletes get when they win a match.”