May 18, 2018

8th Graders Pass the Debate Torch

Justin Sweitzer, Middle School Debate Coach

de-break-up: n. the ending of a debate season which in turn then ends the regular interaction of a debater and their debate coach

Before it actually happens, it’s whispered about by middle school debaters for weeks. As the days wind down before the final practice, there lingers a mist of anxiety and sadness over the incomprehensibility of the notion that there, soon, will be a day with no debating. On the actual day of the last practice, emotions are manifest, expressions are varied, and most are still not understanding that no longer will they be researching all night, preparing with teammates, handling the unavoidable drama, and hanging with their coach. Yes, the vibe seems to confirm: one debate class passes, another comes along, and the program somehow continues.

I sit here now still enshrouded in that disbelief that the current group of eighth grade debaters will never debate as middle schoolers again. Let me make no mistake: every year it is difficult to part with my 8th grade debaters. It’s just that this year it’s easy to argue that the program has never seen so many dedicated debaters out of one single class as this one. Yes, this is, by nature and necessity, debatable, but the season is upon me when I need to say good-bye, and I am, admittedly, appealing to my emotions.

Before I say what they accomplished, let me just state their names:

Emma, Naomi, Gabrielle, Henry, Margaret, Owen, Noah, Miller, Ily, Alexandra, and Arun.

If only you knew how good they were!

I have maintained for years now that this is the best middle school debate program in California. This is based on logic and data but not without bias. This year, the 2017-2018 Oakwood Middle School Debate Team etched the claim to the above proposition in stone. In a league, the Golden State Debate League (GSDL), that once again proved itself to be the most successful league at multi-league events, and therefore the most competitive in Southern California, this year’s Oakwood team accomplished the following:

  • 1st Overall and 1st Tournament awards at Colina

  • 1st Overall and 1st Tournament at Chaminade

  • 1st Overall and 1st Tournament at Oaks Christian’s GSDL Championship

  • Winners of the Public Final at Oaks Christian

  • Most Wins at Regionals

  • 2nd Place total performance at Quad Leagues

Personally, if I were reading this, I would be skeptical. As an Oakwood community member I might say, “Yes, but who were they debating? Which schools? Who participates in this? How can they be so successful?”

Here are the schools that Oakwood competes against: Pasadena Polytechnic, Chaminade Prep, Colina MS, Pegasus, Westridge, Brentwood, Harvard-Westlake, Campbell Hall, Fairview Anaheim, and literally dozens of other schools. The best schools with their best debaters, and still the Oakwood team does things like this:

  • Emma/Kiki/Arun lost one of 23 tournament debates (an Oakwood record). Just let that sink in for a moment.

  • Emma herself lost once in 27 tournament debates (an Oakwood record). Again, look at the schools we compete against, and let that sink in.

  • Willa/Naomi/Ily never finished lower than 5th at a tournament.

  • For the season, the whole team won ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-ONE rounds and dropped only 48 (an Oakwood record).

  • That also means that this team broke the 2012-2013 team’s record for win percentage (70.7) with their own (71.6).

  • A Season Sweep of all the school awards in the GSDL. Only the 2nd time this has been accomplished in 10 years of the GSDL. The last time was Oakwood’s amazing 2012-2013 team.

But, look, none of this reflects how great these eighth graders are. I tried, at our season-ending bash in Room 12 last Monday, to express my love for them with pizza and roses, and some words of recognition, and I hope I did a decent enough job. Because nothing, no gesture, no words, could express my soul-deep appreciation for the good times and friendship they have give me over the course of two years, 120-some practices, and 100 hours of Saturday tournaments. By this coach, I must declare, they are truly loved.

It must also be acknowledged that the parents of this group are phenomenally supportive and have helped build this program. People like Jonathan Mostow, Rachel Lipman, and Daniel Edelman have given their love to Oakwood Debate and have always had faith in decisions made, regardless of the outcome. One cannot possibly feel alone when surrounded by people like Wendey Stanzler, Deborah Lopez, Stacey Bernstein-Haas, Deborah Kaplan, Beth Laski, and Andrew Blankstein. It is such a special group! As well, one 9th grader gave his time to the program again and again and again and was a reliable and wisdomful judge and a solid companion: Finn.

And what about the 7th graders on this team, you say? Look out. For they are wild and unfazed by records and such. Argue with them at your own peril.

I’m guessing it’s going to be quite fun next year.

Results from Regionals at Mt. San Antonio College:

  • Gabby 30th place (out of 350 debaters)

  • Arun 6th place (out of 350 debaters)

  • Emma/Kiki/Arun 11th

  • Willa/Naomi/Ily 16th

  • Kiana/Maggie/Henry 19th

Results from the GSDL Championship at Oaks Christian

  • Willa 30th, Maggie 27th, Kiki 26th, Miles 25th, Gus 23rd, Noah 21st, Miller 19th, Gabby 18th, Alex 17th, Arun 13th, Ily 3rd

  • Leo/Lukas/Gus 13th, Scarlett/Sylvie/Miles 11th, Kate/Noah/Gabby 10th, Owen/Alex/Miller 7th, Willa/Naomi/Ily 5th, Emma/Kiki/Arun 1st.

  • 1st place school in everything