The great debaters


Ellie Akough, Reporter

Every Saturday, herds of high schoolers in pant suits and suit jackets gather at a metropolitan high school to debate at weekly tournaments until the season reaches its culmination with the state tournament. These weekly tournaments have a sort of energy to them. There are hundreds of debaters at every tournament rushing to rounds and guzzling coffee, all the while, adrenaline coursing through their nervous system.
“Debaters arrive at a tournament very early on a Saturday morning and don’t finish until well after the sun has gone down,” Scott Tomsu, one of Elkhorn South’s former debate coaches, said, “They switch sides on the topic throughout the day, receive feedback from judges, make friends from other schools, and hopefully have a ton of fun while engaging in a very intellectual activity.”
Many of these students can be seen speaking or, more specifically, shouting at walls. They’re adorned in formal clothes and could be easily mistaken for a crowd of adolescent lawyers. Even curiouser, you wouldn’t notice they weren’t lawyers until they told you. They speak fast, think even faster, and love to do both.
“My favorite thing about debate is that it is the best way to challenge students to learn in depth in many important areas; writing, speaking, researching, listening, and across several curricular areas; English, history, science,” Fred Robertson, one of Elkhorn South’s former assistant debate coaches, said.
Debaters aren’t just there to public speak and go home, they want to win. Debaters are at tournaments for up to 16 hours and, depending on the event, can compete in over 6 rounds.
“To be successful, a debater has to be willing to work hard to become more intelligent, to be more strategic, and to be willing to learn from others who know how to help them get better and are willing to help them,” Robertson said. “A debater also has to be much tougher than the average person because even the best debaters lose about 30-40% of their rounds of competition, since the competition is so difficult.”
There is also something in debaters that other extracurriculars can’t seem to match. Neither DECA, varsity athletics, nor any AP class rivals the rigor of debate.  
“If school is mental floss, then debate is mental roughage,” Schafer said.
Although debates may look like verbal fights, they aren’t just arguing. There is a highly upheld standard of structure and formality in the debate world. Everyone follows the rules as closely as possible so the ronds run as smoothly as possible.
“Debating is not a free-for-all where you shout down everyone else, it’s a very intellectual exercise where you learn how to be more objective and more capable of understanding how to persuade others,” Tomsu said.
Debaters are often seen by their peers as argumentative – maybe even annoyingly argumentative. Many of them are just thinking of how to get better at finding loopholes in arguments on the fly. They’re intrinsically creative. Sophomore Joey Schafer, a policy debater for Elkhorn South, expressed sentiments about how unique the debate community is.
“More often than not, people in debate rarely meet people who share the same qualities before debate,” Schafer said.
Regardless of non-debater’s misconceptions about the activity, debate will live on. There is too much passion from its participants to go slowly into the light.
“There are some incredible people which come through the activity and I’m honored to have gotten to know so many of them,” Tomsu said.