By Min Park and Maggie Winters
The South debate team remains one of South’s most successful teams as it is recognized and awarded in both local and national debate circuits. For the debaters on the team, this success remains attributed to debate’s unique and supportive spirit.
One of the team’s captains, senior Kayla Chang, says that the debate team feels pride in being a Newton South team because the school’s name holds weight in competitions.
“In the local circuit, we basically have the biggest speech and debate team, so we are very proud to be Newton South,” Chang said.
Adding on, team member and junior Hannah Phan states that stating yourself as a “South debater” helps intimidate competitors because South debate remains so well known.
“When we identify ourselves as the Newton South debate team, that is pretty much how we incite fear to our competitors during tournaments,” Phan said.
This ingrained pride and team camaraderie, Chang says, comes from the large amount of time the team spends together, which innately fosters friendships.
Chang says that the team on average meets about 3 to 4 times a week, however, the junior and senior members meet almost everyday, thus forcing the team to bond.
“When you spend that much time around people, it either becomes a really unhealthy environment or a really supportive environment. The fact that we are all friendly to each other is really important especially because debate is really stressful,” Chang said.
Phan also describes how the debate team requires extensive outside of school work and attributes her teammates’ support as the reason she has been able to complete all the work and research.
“Our words of encouragements really help me get through different things especially if I feel like my research or my tournament is not going well,” Phan said.
Speech and Debate team advisor Lisa Honeyman also says that having supportive teammates makes it easier for team members to develop their skills and reach their competitive goals.
“Those are important aspects of being part of a team. The skills learned in speech or debate are critical skills in almost all professions and areas of life. Practicing and sharing those skills with like-minded people creates friendships, spirit and personal growth that goes far beyond the short-term rush of winning competitions,” Honeyman said.
Honeyman also states that it remains natural for people to bond with teammates who share the same interests and work closely with. In addition, when the teammates challenge each other to do their personal best, these bonds grow stronger.
Phan explains that her debate team experiences provide her with more than just debate advice, but also valuable upperclassmen insight concerning school or life in general.
Phan says that the novices, who are the “first years” and usually freshmen, are well incorporated into the team as the varsity members encourage the novices to work and bond.
“I think in a way the debate team revolves around the novices and to help them improve because they are the future generation of the debate team,” Phan said.
As a result, the novices are also usually close within themselves, as freshmen Jessica Wu can attest that her experience on debate has so far been supportive.
“If you do poorly in a round everyone will comfort you and if you go to the finals everyone from South is cheering you on. It definitely does, because it hypes you up and helps you,” Wu said.
Reflecting on her own freshman year, junior Gil Alon says that although she did not know any of her teammates as a novice, her debate friends have become some of her closest friends.
Alon says that the entire debate team tries to become more friendly and relaxed towards the novices, so that they feel welcome even if they are walking into a room full of strangers.
Adding on, Phan attributes these long lasting bonds as the reason why she stayed on the debate team since her freshmen year.
“All that independent work is very overwhelming and very grueling.The team bonding is what helped me persevere through all the hard times in terms of preparation so team bonding makes debate worth it. Without it it would be very difficult to continue as an independent debater,” Phan said.
Chang continues by stating that the uniqueness of South debates comes from the fact that the pairings within the debate team are all mostly at an equal level, thus creating an environment where teammates are able to help and support each other.
“In a lot of schools there is one really good team with everyone else at a much lower level, but at South, we pretty much have every single team we have is really good so we are all at the level where we can help each other rather than just one team helping the rest of the team,” Chang said.
Alon adds on that South debate is one of the few schools that broaden opportunities for everyone instead of prioritizing resources to the few top teams.
“We base it on work ethic because it gives everyone a chance to improve, so we are also one of the teams that have the largest amount of really good teams in the country because we focus a lot on the team and not on individuals,” Alon said.
Like other competitive activities, debate teams are nationally ranked on a standardized ranking system, which ensures that pairings are not eliminated from the tournament one by one.
Alon also says that this ranking system, forces members to improve and work harder, without jeopardizing South debate as a whole and maintaining the team’s commitment to inclusion.
Chang also says that this environment creates friendly competition between the different teams of South debate, especially at qualification tournaments where there are a limited amount of spots that everyone must fight for.
“The team’s always been very community oriented, but the difference over the years is that the team as a whole has become much competitive, ” Chang said.
Chang also says that in this competitive environment, it remains significant that the students are not only able to support each other, but more importantly want to support each other.
Senior captain Malcolm Davis agrees with Chang and says that even though there is a competitive side to debate, he still finds it enjoyable to watch the team do well at competitions, and will genuinely cheer each others.
“Last year, my partner and I were eliminated and it was still great fun to help other teams prepare and especially to gather intelligence where everyone can frantically research and find the way to win the next round. Team cohesion always helps succeed the team at a national scale,” Davis said.
As the debate team has grown in size in the past few years, this team cohesion still remains present and is a uniting force for all the members.
Alon admits that although she has naturally more fostered closer connections with specific teammates, she can proudly attest to the strong community debate has become.
“The debate team is a special place in my heart because there is nothing at South that has this close of a bond, everyone just knows each other and you meet the coolest people, it’s unique from anything that I’ve ever been a part of,” Alon said.