Debate Team Goes to Columbia

Ethan Li, Op-Ed Editor

It feels wrong to get up early on the weekends.

A spoonful of cereal and milk dribbles down Tim’s chin as he multitasks eating breakfast and watching debate videos on his iPad. It is 7:00 in the morning, and we have to leave in less than ten minutes. Correction: It feels very wrong to get up early on the weekends.

But that is exactly what Tim (Sadov) and I did. We took a train to the city on Friday, and stayed there for the weekend to compete at Columbia University’s prestigious debate tournament. Three days, six rounds, and over twenty hours of combined debate makes for a very stressful weekend. Was it worth it? Definitely.

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This year the Ward Melville debate club was revived from a decade-long hiatus by student debaters William Jin and Emily Xu. Headed by its advisor, Mrs. Porter, the team already boasts an impressive record. In just their first year, four Ward Melville debaters already qualified for the State Championships. Kathleen Esfahany, Michael Lu, George Boukas, and Ivan Viro will all debate at States in April. This is no small feat; skillful debate is a very difficult thing to master. As Debate Co-president Jin says, “Debate might seem like just a test of speech and delivery skills, but moreover it is the art of delivery, along with persuasion and speed thinking.”

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“No. That doesn’t sound right. Maybe move it over there.”

“But that would mess up our second contention. We need to talk about economy first.”


It is Saturday night, almost Sunday morning. We’re checking through our arguments one final time in preparation for Sunday’s round. There’s no printer, and all our speeches are already covered in scribbled scrawls from previous rounds.

“Dude. We should get some sleep…”

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“…And in 3rd place: William Jin and Justin Chambers.”

William Jin started debating when he was in sixth grade. He was a self-professed “shy kid,” which is hard to believe, talking to him now. “It was very face-paced and intimidating at first, especially because I was the youngest member of the team.” The team he refers to was “Agape,” a group of skilled young debaters that also included Co-president Emily Xu.

At his first debate, Jin was astonished at just how many competitors there were. “Kids came in from three different cities in New York and New Jersey. At the end, I didn’t think I did too well. My partner and I were going to leave after the last round, but we decided to stay for the award ceremony just for fun.”

It was a good decision. Jin and his partner placed third in a field of over seventy debaters. And what’s more, his success spurred him to continue on with debate. But overall, shiny trophies and medals weren’t his main objective, says Jin. “I enjoyed the labor; those awards were just extra, the fruits which encouraged me to keep at it and start the debate team at Ward Melville.”

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I fell asleep on the car ride home. In the end, Tim and I won two rounds out of six. We learned some tough lessons, but in the end the actual experience of the tournament was the best lesson of all. Unfortunately we still had a lot of homework, and–tomorrow being Monday–ended up pulling another all-nighter. It was still worth it though.

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“I started the debate team at Ward Melville in the hopes of allowing others to experience the same joy, positivity, and creativity of debate that I experienced.” –William Jin