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Viewpoint: Debate team captain reflects on experiences

by Abby Holtzman

It is 7 p.m on a Tuesday evening, and the lights in a second floor classroom snap on as I open the door. I remember two years ago, when the debate team met in a crumbling corner of the old building. We would perch on the radiator and yell at each other. We would stand up, turn red and speak about justice, democracy and John Locke.

We would shuffle our papers across desks. Those old desks missing an inch or two of their metal legs and stained with initials and age, we would dangle our legs off of these desks and throw around words–categorical imperative and jury nullification. On Saturdays, we would clutch cups of coffee and huddle in school cafeterias between rounds of either stuttering defeat or glorious victory

Like any team, we have our horror stories of the former member who leaned over to empty his stomach in the middle of his first round and continued speaking. Or the legacy of that unbeatable team from wherever, whose speeches sounded like they were on fast-forward. But as a whole, we tend not to dwell on the past. Which is fine, because not much has changed in the few years of debate’s existence at this school. We still sit on things and argue. We still drive to small towns as the sun is still mellow and return, slumped in backseats, as it is setting. We still have those moments, sometimes, when our voices sound strong and our logic is solid and the perfect point flies into our heads and out through our mouths.

Now, as I enter the room in a school where radiators no longer hiss and windows are clear and closed, I can still feel the pulse of our old room and team, like ghosts on the windowsill, saying “We contend,” “In defense” and “These three points.” But before I can count the contentions, one, two and three, as they are laid out by my intangible companions, people begin to file in.

We launch into a heated discussion of the ending of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry’s struggle for the elder wand is called “basically a lawsuit,” and his procurement of it is deemed “a paperwork formality.” The climactic final scene is mentioned. “Dude, that’s how ‘Fight Club’ ended…” one debater says. That’s definitively not how ‘Fight Club’ ended. Or is it? Each side makes its argument. The judge, for now, is simply the file cabinet in the corner, as impartial as we can get. The verdict? “This is ridiculous.” We move on.

The ghosts are still watching, but in a genial sort of way. I see my younger self, looking vaguely impressed with our new members. We exchange a look, the same sort of look you hope to trade with a judge, with one eyebrow raised, the kind that says something like, “I’m not saying a word, but keep it up.” The kind of look that pushes me to keep on debating.

The debate team meets on Tuesdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and  Thursdays X-Block in 270.  Email [email protected] with any questions.

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