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Perspective: The First Tournament

Executive Director Rhonda Haynes Shares Her First Debate Tournament Experience

October 23, 2019 – It’s officially fall, and to date, over 4,500 students, from 422 middle and high schools across the urban debate network, have already competed in their first tournament. For some, it was their first tournament of the season. For many, it was their first debate contest ever.

That first tournament is such a key moment for every debater — building confidence in an activity that, let’s face it, can be a little daunting from the outside.

I still remember my first tournament vividly. It was April 2016, about a month into my role as Deputy Executive Director at NAUDL, and I was at the Urban Debate National Championship in San Francisco.

I was practically giddy as I entered the classroom, found a seat near the back, and leaned forward. I’d decided to watch a team from my hometown of Memphis square off against a varsity team from Detroit. I was on the edge of my seat as the round started — but, I have to be honest, I understood absolutely nothing except the words in the resolution: “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially curtail its domestic surveillance.”

The rest of the first affirmative constructive was indecipherable to me.  My brain isn’t trained to process speech at 350 words per minute, and like many people watching debate for the first time, the rate of delivery was the most prominent feature of the round. Nevertheless, I was awestruck by the event. It was riveting, and I loved every minute of it.

Even though I couldn’t follow every argument, I could clearly see the impact of debate and of the debate community for these students. You could hear the passion in their voices. You could see the teamwork in their relationships. Over time, I learned that beneath the rapid pace, students were communicating highly complex policy ideas, getting real-time feedback from their judges, and adjusting their arguments for future rounds. The experience helped me understand a statement I had heard at least a dozen times before I ever saw a round: “Debate changed my life.”

At NAUDL, we know that no other in-school or afterschool activity is capable of providing the unique combination of academic rigor, personal empowerment, civic engagement, and community-building that debate delivers. Through debate, students develop critical communication and collaboration skills, while simultaneously researching both sides of multifaceted issues. Students also learn to invest in themselves as scholars, public speakers, and informed citizens. In the short term, this advances their readiness for competition. In the long term, this sets them up for success far beyond debate — in their classrooms, careers and communities.

It is extraordinary to witness, and with this year’s debate calendar well underway, we invite you to learn more, donate, and volunteer as our leagues host their second and third tournaments of the season. Take a look at the NAUDL events page and see where this life-changing activity is taking place near you — so you, too, can congratulate these inspiring students on their achievements and commitment to success.

Rhonda Haynes
Executive Director

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