Four Gunn debate teams qualified for the California High School Speech Association (CHSSA) State Tournament which will be held at Enochs High School in Modesto on April 25 through 27. Gunn took two of the six available spots for parliamentary debate and two of the nine available spots for policy debate. The two parliamentary debate teams—seniors David Patou and Ben Atlas and seniors Manu Navjeevan and Antonio Puglisi—won their spots at the Coast Forensic League (CFL) Parliamentary State Qualifiers at Leland High School on March 7 and 8. The two policy debate teams—seniors Catalina Zhao and Amy Shen and sophomores Ajay Raj and Kush Dubey—won their spots at the CFL Policy Debate State Qualifiers at Westmont High School on March 14 and 15.
In Parliamentary Debate, two-student teams are given 20 minutes to prepare after the topic is announced. Participants must rely on their existing knowledge of domestic policy and foreign affairs to craft an argument and refute the contentions of their opposition. “Parliamentary debate is characterized by its improvisational nature,” Atlas said.
In contrast, however, Policy Debate participants are given a topic that they research beforehand. The topic remains the same for the entirety of the school year. This year, debaters must decide if the United States federal government should substantially increase its economic engagement with Cuba, Venezuela or Mexico. “To prepare for Policy Debate, a team creates an affirmative plan—40 or so pieces of evidence advocating a certain course of action for the United States Federal Government, and create case negatives for other affirmative plans that are run by other schools—50 or so pieces of evidence,” Raj said. Prior knowledge of the issue is helpful, but debaters sometimes have to use other methods of refutation in order to disprove their opponent. “Preparation mainly involves doing research and doing practice debates,” Shen said. “Arguments in policy debate have to be backed up by evidence, so if you haven’t researched a particular topic beforehand, you just have to rely on finding flaws in your opponents’ evidence.”
While both styles of debate require extensive research, parliamentary debaters must also be informed of recent developments in global and domestic affairs. “The best way to be prepared is to be up-to-date with current events,” Patou said. “We check the news everyday and then practice arguing the different viewpoints of each issue. Beyond that, one of the best ways to get better at winning is to get better at speaking. Presentation is a really big deal.”
According to Shen, competing in the CFL League Tournaments from October through February is one of the main ways of preparing for the State and National Qualifiers, held in March. “When you’re in a debate round, you’re forced to give extemporaneous speeches, pick apart your opponents’ arguments, defend your points during cross-examination, and present convincingly to parent judges—all of which you get better at by going to tournaments and debating,” she said.
According to Patou, two of the best teams in California are Bellarmine College Preparatory and Leland High School, both in San Jose. While Gunn competes against both schools regularly, Patou’s biggest concern is the uncertainty of how well-prepared the other teams are. “We’re very familiar with the teams from our area but not familiar with many teams from the rest of California,” he said. “They could be really, really good or not so good—we don’t really know so we’re preparing for the former.”
Puglisi, who only started debate this year, echoes Patou’s sentiment. “Our biggest concern is the competition—we’re facing some of the best debaters in the state so the going will be tough,” Puglisi said. “We’re happy just to have made it this far, so we’ll give it our best and see how deep we can get in the tournament.”
Raj is nervous about his chances at the state tournament. “Gunn is not a really well-known school for policy debate, and being a sophomore team going into the tournament makes us certainly concerned for the state tournament,” Raj said. “Since Gunn is only sending four people to the tournament, we don’t have many people compiling evidence.”
Even though Gunn’s debate teams lack the financial resources and support that other high schools in the league have, they continue to do exceptionally well. “Gunn’s kind of an underdog—we don’t have a coach, our team is small, and we don’t spend nearly as much time preparing as other schools do, so it’s always a good feeling when we’re able to beat them,” Shen said. “It’s great to see our hard work and commitment pay off.”