Perspective: ‘A Spirit Intact’

Elevating Debate

April 30, 2021 – Springtime is here, and the season has already brought many blooms for our debate community to enjoy!  NAUDL proudly presented the first-ever National Debate Expo April 15-18. This three-day event sought to “elevate debate” — and the students and community members that made debate a reality this school year. A sure sign of growth as we evolve to meet the needs of different times.

Way back in the gray of winter, after cancelling our 2020 events, the NAUDL team knew we had to find a way to deliver a dynamic tournament this year — virtually.  Instead of producing an online replica of our in-person competition, we did our best to optimize the experience: hosting a round-robin with six rounds versus the typical eight-round tournament; adding a slate of learning tracks for skill-building and debate best practices; and planning an Opening Night kick-off to celebrate the 2021 Awards and a season fulfilled.

Of course, there was a great deal of logistics to mine and engineer. The most immediate: screen fatigue and time zones.  With participants representing both coasts and everything in between, we wanted to present reasonable hours for competition and workshops.  So, we shortened the duration of competition, realizing that burnout from virtual engagement is real for both students and adults.

Another consideration in the planning: technology.  How would we go about hosting an online Expo?  Zoom, of course, was an obvious consideration.  However, we understood the limitations there and wanted to utilize a platform capable of simultaneously hosting different types of interaction.  With Hopin, our ultimate choice, we were able to host both debate competition and workshops while providing dedicated rooms for support, team hubs, and community building.

The workshop component was an important feature, as so many students and coaches lost developmental opportunities this year.  Leaning into our network of seasoned debate experts, NAUDL received scores of proposals for workshops suitable for debaters (all levels), coaches, and program staff.  We settled on 29 titles that we felt were most relevant or most anticipated next year’s debate topic, clean water access.  I could not be prouder of the manner in which Sara Sanchez and Luke Hill approached this project — leveraging their respective networks, professional experience, and personal interests to build what we hoped would be an incredibly useful and meaningful experience. The content was so much more comprehensive and inclusive than anything I envisioned — and my expectations weren’t the least bit limited.

My goosebumps continued as we finally reached Opening Night, with our Board Chair Stuart Singer acknowledging the contributions of our 2021 Coach of the Year Dean Howell to the Los Angeles Urban Debate League (LAMDL); the privilege of hearing a special Keynote Message from MLB veteran and Community Advocate Doug Glanville; and the thoughtful remarks from our 2021 Debater of the Year Dana Agbede, who also represented LAMDL. “The spirit of urban debate remains intact,” said Dana. “Even during a global pandemic, volunteers, alumni, coaches, and even opponents, continue to wholeheartedly commit themselves to be a part of this community.”

All told, nearly 200 registrants floated between the Expo’s debate rounds and workshops, with attendees taking advantage of the virtual assemblies. Some of the more highly-attended sessions included: “History of the Clean Water Act”, “Preparing to Win”, and “Engaging and Employing Alumni.” NAUDL also presented an exhibition of the I RESOLVE Public Debate Series. Students from the Silicon Valley Urban Debate League (SVUDL) introduced arguments in support of police reform and a riveting panel of national experts offered feedback and perspective.

The weekend closed with final congratulations going to Round Robin winners Jordan Freeman and Aaron Gill of the Atlanta Urban Debate League. Jordan and Aaron took home the coveted inaugural Leonard A. Gail Award, representing “hard work, intellectual rigor and competition.”

Looking ahead to our next chapter, we are excited to continue to virtually host the Debate Expo in addition to our Urban Debate National Championship.  This is no small feat, but exactly the type of programming that will benefit more students each year.  On behalf of the entire organization, I extend many thanks to those who supported us this year.  To those who volunteered, donated, or participated, know that we could not have done this without you!

Rhonda Haynes
Executive Director

Special thanks to our generous Opening Night sponsors and Expo Track and Workshop sponsors.

For UDNC or Expo-related inquiries:
Sara Sanchez, Director of Programs and Communications
sarasanchez@urbandebate.org

For sponsorship-related inquiries:
Madalyn Messer-Brooks, Director of Development
madalyn.messerbrooks@urbandebate.org

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