June 3, 2021

Debate Perseveres Despite Pandemic

Justin Sweitzer / Middle School Debate Coach

I came across debater Josh ’25 on my first day back to in-person instruction the day after our 20 hour two-day Regionals online tournament, and, I don’t know if this went through his mind, but through mine went the realization that we had actually done the entire year of debate on Zoom. Seeing the in-person version of Josh brought a lot of what we accomplished into a pleasant reality. Josh, like many other middle school debaters, didn’t need to be in person in order to show his dedication and considerable skill at debating, but it was good to see him and the others under the sun and back in the Old Senior Lot.

Debate kept going strong during this strange year. I don’t know your own experience with the kind of human contact we had during the pandemic, but for many it was a slow, gooey descent into brain fogginess. This year, however, was not the year of the worldwide virus for Oakwood Debate–this year was the year of young, sharp-as-onyx public speakers who cut through the medical gauze and delivered a cure for online malaise.

This year, however, was not the year of the worldwide virus for Oakwood Debate–this year was the year of young, sharp-as-onyx public speakers who cut through the medical gauze and delivered a cure for online malaise.

Justin Sweitzer

For grades 6th-8th, over 50 debaters completed 7 tournaments and around 200 hours of practice in the online format. Ennui? Inertia? I think not.

In the ground breaking category, the 2020-2021 6th graders, the class of ’27, will always be known as the first 6th grade class to jump into the competitive field. It’s always tough to jump in first, right? Because of this, I tempered my expectations of how many graduating elementary students would take the plunge. Maybe 10? Maybe 14? How about 27.

Malaise that.

Because of this and the high percentage of returning 7th graders, next season already shimmers with giddy promise. The exiting 8th graders are very close to my heart (I tear up writing this now). How could they not be? Never once did they complain about their fate, and, on the contrary, took what was given and soared. What’s that said about when we find someone’s true character? Ah, it’s when the chips are down, the levee breaks, and all that stuff. Those names at the end of this article? Put down in the books that they walked into the troubling winds of 2020-2021 and made their own way. Personally, they kept me tethered to a school I missed so, so much. For what they did for me, I hope I did a hundredth of it for them.

At the season-completing All-California Championships, four three-person teams finished in the top 25 (out of 96 teams), and 5 debaters placed in the top 25 with 3 of those falling in the top 10 (out of 278 debaters). The weekend before that, the MS team swept all awards at the Newbury Park Tournament winning 30 of 36 rounds, taking the gavel (Lily ’25), taking the first place team (Nora ’26, Franny ’26, and Lily), and taking both the Tournament and Overall awards for top school. Oh, yeah, in November they went to a tournament and did not lose. 24-0.

Oakwood Middle School Debate competes remotely via Zoom.

Without being grandiose, it must be mentioned that our kind of debate will save the world. So much for evading hyperbole–yet it’s true. Damn any assertion that has no reasoning or evidence. This is not political; this is called critical thinking. The world that we conjure at Oakwood casts out ignorance of any kind and demands you stand by the flag you plant, take the hits, and respond to valid questioning–or kindly step down until you are ready to join that arterial stream that feeds our perception of what we are: human discourse.

That’s what we do at Oakwood. That’s what we do at Oakwood Debate. Step up!

Thank you, Diana and Kai, for accommodating the extra work that many 6th graders bore. Thank you, Denise, Kevin, and Jaime, for approving of the 6th grade venture early on. Thank you, parents, for encouraging your kids and tolerating their late hours of prep. Thank you, my wife, for always being patient with late-running tournaments and my sometimes-trying-and-annoying debate-mindedness.

And the biggest thank you goes to the wise warriors of the high school who critique and shape our debaters day-on and day-out. Nothing happens if we don’t have this critical contribution from these wonderful role-model/former-champions.

Just like history will inevitably take hold of 2020-21, this year’s Oakwood debaters took hold of their destiny and exemplified perseverance, grit, and tenacity. While many will say it was the year of the pandemic, I have 53 ferocious Oakwood debaters who would like to counter that:

Xander ’27, Jack ’27, Chloe ’27, Grey ’27, Max ’27, Will ’27, Chelsea ’27, Olive ’27, Coco ’27, Sylvie ’27, Ollie ’27, Sophie ’27, Daphne ’27, Toby ’27, Charlie ’27, Griffin ’27, Tea ’27, Isabel ’27, Dash ’27, Wren ’27, George ’27, Freddie ’27, Jessie ’27, Claire ’27, Jojo ’26, Orion ’26, Brady ’26, Frisco ’26, Lori ’26, Franny ’26, Nora ’26, Lala ’26, Gemma ’26, Alexa ’26 Natalie ’26, Jenna ’26, Teddy ’26, Dylan ’26, Dara ’26, Kamran ’26, Leo ’26, Coco ’25, Lily ’25, Ben ’25, Josh ’25, Ty ’25, Noah ’25, Jai ’25, Jonah ’25, Eden ’25 Nathan ’25, Shayne ’25, Louis ’25, and Charlotte ’25.

Go, Oakwood.