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​General FAQs

Q Who are we?

Q What do you do​?

Q When does the team meet and do members have to attend every practice?

Q What happens at practice?

Q Do members have to compete?

Q What should I expect during my first year as a member?

Q Why don’t new members participate in more national tournaments?

FAQs for Students

Q Are there try-outs?

Q Will I have time to do other things?

Q Will I get to travel?

Q How much preparation is there for a tournament?

Q What happens if I lose?

Q How do I get regular information about team events?

Q Will there be people to help me learn?

Q Why speech and debate?

Q Will debate help me with my academics?

Q But is this just another class?

Q Is speech and debate only for the really academic students?

Q Do Whitman debaters get into good colleges?

FAQs for Parents

Q How do I get regular information?

Q How is the team organized?

Q So it’s not a school sponsored activity?

Q How are the routine team activities managed?

Q How are the local tournaments organized?

Q How are the national tournaments organized?

Q When are the national tournaments and where?

Q Where can I find out more about specific tournaments?

Q How much does it cost to be a team member?

Q How much does it cost to participate in national tournaments?

Q Do tournaments involve taking time off school?

Q What are Parent Volunteering Expectations?

Q Are you kidding? You want me to judge a tournament?

Q How is the Board of Directors chosen?

Further questions?

If you have questions about the team please feel free to contact any of our Board Members.

General Answers

Q. Who are we?

We are a team of about 100 members.  Team members are from all classes - freshmen through seniors.  Any student is welcome to join and we have no cuts. 

We are one of the most successful speech and debate teams in the country. Our students routinely win national tournaments. We hold the record in Lincoln Douglas debate for the most students qualified in one year to the Tournament of Champions, the national championship (10 students, in 2010). We won the Tournament of Champions in Public Forum debate in 2014 and again in 2015, and have had semifinalists in Lincoln Douglas three times since 2010. We won the NSDA ("Nats") tournament in Public Forum in 2015.

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Q What do you do?

A. Almost everything in the speech & debate arenas! At Whitman, we have a wide range of events you can participate in depending on your preference. Roughly speaking, the team is divided into two broad categories:

·      Debate

·      Speech & Interpretation

There is no need to stick to any one event. In fact, many debaters both past and present have experimented with multiple events, and some of our previous debaters competed rigorously in two or more separate events. For more information on each event, check out our Event Descriptions on our website.

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Q When does the team meet and do members have to attend every practice?

Students usually meet for practice on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 6:30pm until 8:30pm, starting in fall and continuing through spring.  All practices are held at Whitman. Members do not have to attend every practice; their level of engagement is up to them.

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Q What happens at practice?

During practice, students work with coaches and other students. This is very much a student-led team with a strong emphasis on seniors and juniors coaching freshmen and sophomores. Students do drills, work on the content for their speeches or debates, practice their speeches/debates, and observe each other.

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Q Do members have to compete?

Many students choose to compete.  Competing is encouraged but not mandatory.  There are monthly local tournaments run by WACFL that many students attend, especially those new to Speech and Debate.  More experienced team members travel out of town for national tournaments. 

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Q What should I expect during my first year as a member?

New members are encouraged to try out multiple events before choosing one (or more) that suits them. During their first year of debate, they can expect to participate mostly in local tournaments run by WACFL. Our largest national tournament of the year is at Harvard over Presidents’ Day weekend and this is open to all students. Typically 50 – 70 of our team members participate. The December tournament at George Mason University also frequently has openings for new member participation.

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Q Why don’t new members participate in more national tournaments?

Most national tournaments have caps on the number of competitors we can send to them. Every summer there is a process of students indicating the tournaments they want to attend during the following school year followed by the head coach allocating the tournament slots across the team. Since new team members join in the fall or later, they are not part of this process. In addition, it would be difficult for incoming members to make such a commitment (both in terms of time and costs) to tournaments before having chosen their event and having exposure to it.

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For Students

Q. Are there try-outs?

A. No! In the words of Anjan Choudhury, one head coach, “Anyone can join, everyone is welcome, and there is a place for everyone!” Please don’t feel like you need some kind of hidden talent or speaking skills to join. If you’re interested, we’d love to have you, even if you just want to find out more information.

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Q. Will I have time to do other things?

A. Yes. In fact, most members of the team do many other activities concurrently. You are welcome regardless of whether you only want to go to one or two local tournaments throughout the year or compete almost every single weekend. Our season lasts almost the entire year (though starting in March, many of the tournaments are post- season or qualifier-only), so you can choose from a large range of local and national tournaments to prevent overlap with your other commitments.

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Q. Will I get to travel?

A. Yes. We travel all over the country. For example, we often attend major national tournaments hosted by colleges like Harvard and Yale, and there is a roster of tournaments we typically participate in which are hosted by high schools or universities. Traveling can be expensive, and it certainly is not a requirement in any way to being a part of the team, but it is an opportunity many of our members cherish. You get to see a different part of the country, traveling is lot of fun, and national tournaments are great learning experiences. The whole team works together, plays mafia, eats great food around the hotel, and ultimately, makes a lot of memories. During the tournaments, you not only get very close with your teammates, but also get to meet students from all over the country.

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Q. How much preparation is there for a tournament?

A. It depends. Obviously competing for the national championship at the national finals requires a much more intense effort than when you first start out in the activity. But when you are just beginning, you will not need to spend too much time outside of meetings preparing for your first few tournaments, especially if you attend practice regularly. Preparation may vary from event to event. For instance, when you write your Original Oratory speech or an Interp piece, it may take quite some time to draft, but once it is set, you can compete for most of the year in the event without substantial new preparation.

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Q. What happens if I lose?

A. Nothing. We do not measure team members by the size of their trophies. At the very least, losing creates an opportunity for you to get better. Some of the finest national-level debaters struggled at first as novices entering the activity, just as many of the successful debaters on our team lost a majority of their rounds during the start of their career. If you do struggle, don’t worry; we’ll be happy to help you out. Furthermore, there is almost always bad luck at a tournament. This is all a long-winded way of saying: losing isn’t a big deal at all!

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Q. How do I get regular information about team events?

A. Make sure you give your name and email address to the coach. Also give your parents’ email addresses to the coach as the same time – it’s equally important to keep your parents in the loop about team activities as we need their help with running events.

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Q. Will there be people to help me learn?

A. Yes! For every event, we have an experienced student captain who can explain and teach all the nuances of the event to you. The seniors and juniors on the team help running practices. In addition, we have coaches for each event. Usually the coaches are college students or recent graduates who participated at a high level in their event while they were at high school. Check out our current roster of coaches.

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Q. Why speech and debate?

A. There are as many different reasons to join the team, as there are members of the team. Many debaters say that the team helps them earn a feeling of accomplishment, develop their intellectual freedom, and, perhaps most importantly, make a ton of new friends, both at Whitman and around the country. One of the best parts of the activity is that it ultimately lets you learn things you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in high school. You will get the opportunity to learn in-depth issues of contemporary political philosophy, current events, and communication. You will be able form your own opinions and just as importantly, learn how to express them in a way that can persuade audiences and help you stand out from the crowd. Finally, the team, and the activity as a whole, is a welcoming community. We pretty much welcome anyone, and the same is true in the larger debate community as well. As you progress in the activity, you will get the chance to meet other students not only at Whitman or in the area but also around the nation!

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Q. Will debate help me with my academics?

A. Definitely! Debate is extremely beneficial for academics, especially for ninth, tenth and eleventh grade English, U.S. History, and U.S./Comparative Government classes. For example, tenth grade English focuses on making effective speeches, debate can really make a difference. More importantly, you learn to construct an argument quickly and in a sophisticated way so that, for example, putting together an English paper or an argumentative in-class essay becomes a much easier task. Finally, no matter which events you participate in, you will learn a lot about the world and about how to communicate your ideas effectively. For instance, past debate topics have centered on issues involving national security, eminent domain, immigration, health care, international law, and judicial activism.

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Q. But is this just another class?

A. Not at all. Being on the team is a way to go beyond the classroom, and we strive to learn about things that interest us personally, rather than those that are required or assigned.

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Q. Is speech and debate only for the really academic students?

A. No. Being an effective debater or speaker is not just about being smart; it involves being able to communicate. Some of the most successful debaters in the nation are not the people with the highest GPAs but are rather people with natural charisma, people who aren’t afraid to lead a crowd, people who are outgoing and extroverted. Most importantly, however, you don’t need to come into debate having all of those qualities. In fact, most members join because they want to be less shy in front of a crowd, or want to just work on their public speaking; those are all important things speech and debate can help you improve on too.

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Q. Do Whitman debaters get into good colleges?

A. Yes. Debate looks great on a transcript, because it is a signal to colleges that you are an independent thinker who is ready and willing to form your own thoughts and make a difference in the world. More importantly, debate teaches you the kind of skills that tend toward success not only in high school but also in college and life. For instance, in the past three years, our members have gone to schools including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, Dartmouth, Brown, Swarthmore, Georgetown, Middlebury, University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Maryland.

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For Parents

Q. How do I get regular information?

A. If you’re not on our mailing list or you are not receiving any information about team events, please make send your name, email address, and your student’s name to the Board’s Operations Manager. We want to keep parents in the loop about team activities and we need your help with running events!

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Q How is the team organized?

The team is formally incorporated as a non-profit 501(c)(3), with a Board of Directors comprised of parents of the member students. The students and coaches take care of the core functions of the team while the parents take care of all the support and logistics needed to support participation in tournaments as well as events in support of our team, for example, social potlucks.

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Q So it’s not a school sponsored activity?

While the team is incorporated as a non-profit, the school supports the team in many ways – we use the school for all our practices and for hosting our annual tournament. We have a faculty sponsor on our board who acts as point person for dealing with tournaments and the necessary paperwork especially when they lead to student absences, as well as all other communications between the school and the debate team. However, neither the school, the faculty, nor the county officially sponsors our organization. It is run by parents and students! We could use your help!

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Q. How are the routine team activities managed?

A. For every event, we have one or more coaches. It is worth noting that all of our coaches are not typically local. There is a student captain for each event and the seniors and juniors on the team help running practices. Usually the coaches are college students or recent college graduates who participated at a high level in their event while they were at high school. Check out our current roster of coaches. These coaches and the senior students also help coach more junior students outside of regular practice hours, typically communicating via Facebook messages, email, and/or Skype (when the coach is remote).

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Q How are the local tournaments organized?

Our team participates in the Washington-Arlington Catholic Forensic League. We usually have one board member designated as WACFL Coordinator. There are WACFL competitions in every event once per month, although not all events are held on the same weekend. These are held in local area schools. We need help from parents to coordinate WACFL’s for each event. Typically this will involve managing a ride-share signup list and ensuring there are enough parents signed up as drivers and judges for each event. The Head Coach usually reports out to the team email list on results.

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Q How are the national tournaments organized?

We typically have one board member designated as National Tournaments Coordinator. This person recruits parents to coordinate each tournament and ensures that they know which students and coaches are traveling. Responsibility for tournaments is split between the coaches and parent organizers/chaperones, with the coach managing tournament registration for the participating students and one or more parents managing logistics. Early in the school year, there are parent meetings and the tournaments coordinator recruits parents to organize and chaperone each of the tournaments. Two to three months before a tournament, the list of participants is finalized and the parent volunteer begins managing the tournaments logistics making travel arrangements, booking hotels and collecting payments. They chaperone the students and/or may also judge in events. We have detailed guidelines on how to organize tournaments generally and for each tournament, the coordinator for the previous year usually passes along information specific to that tournament. The Head Coach is generally responsible for communicating results of the tournament to the team at large.

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Q When are the national tournaments and where?

The team participates in numerous tournaments, but not always in the same tournaments every year. In addition, some tournaments are attended only by some events, for example, in the 2015-2016 school year, only Lincoln-Douglas debaters attended the Valley tournament in Iowa. Each year in June, the Head Coach sends out a travel guide to the entire team listing the planned tournaments and student guidelines. Students are expected to review and discuss this with their parents who need to confirm that their student may participate in each and every tournament.

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Q Where can I find out more about specific tournaments?

National tournaments are generally listed on either Tabroom or Joy of Tournaments. The organizers of the tournament choose which site they use.

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Q How much does it cost to be a team member?

The membership fees are outlined here and they cover attending practices twice weekly for the year, online support from coaches, and participation at WACFL tournaments, which are monthly from October to February. Financial Aid may be available for students who need it - please contact Mr. Colin O'Brien, faculty sponsor, to inquire. 

Currently our membership revenue is lower than the actual cost of running the team, which is subsidized by additional donations. Our largest cost by far is paying for our coaches.

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Q How much does it cost to participate in national tournaments?

Cost of attendance varies depending on transport (plane, train, bus, cars), hotel costs at the destination, registration fees, meals, shared costs for coaches travel and time, number of students traveling (to share costs of hotel rooms and traveling coaches). The costs vary widely from about $450 - $1000 per tournament, which involves travel. Local tournaments at GMU (George Mason University) and Georgetown cost less, in the range of $30 - $100 depending on the event the student is participating in. We have developed a scholarship fund in memory of our teammate Tommy Buarque De Macedo.  Please click here for more information about applying for assistance or for ways to support the fund.

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Q Do tournaments involve taking time off school?

Sometimes – typically tournaments are held on Sat/Sun but some run for three days and on occasion travel arrangements may necessitate taking a day off school. But most of our members deal well with this and don’t miss out on schoolwork.

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Q What are Parent Volunteering Expectations?

We expect each new family to contribute 5 hours of time per school year. Returning families are expected to contribute 10 hours of time.  Getting involved with the team is very rewarding and it’s a great way to get to know other parents and students. It’s also critical for our continued existence. If you are unable to help out by volunteering your time, then we ask that you donate the equivalent of $20 times the number of hours listed above.

We need your help with following activities:

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Q Are you kidding? You want me to judge a tournament?

Yes we do! But we’ll help you get there. Each year we hold training sessions for new parent judges. We realize that this is not something everyone feels comfortable about upfront but, just as your student may need to step out of his or her comfort zone in the early days of speech and debate, we encourage you to do so also. It’s not as intimidating as it seems. In addition to the training sessions and materials we provide, there are many resources available online, e.g., this video on judging Public Forum. Having our parents act as judges at events helps keep our costs down as we otherwise need to pay to hire judges, and this option is not always available.

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Q How is the Board of Directors chosen?

Each year there is an election to the board of directions. This is held at the annual spring potluck event. Terms are for 2 years and in an ideal scenario, we turn over about half the board each year. This allows for continuity and passing on team knowledge. Parental involvement with the team often looks like this:

·      First year – not really sure if my kid is going to get heavily involved, so I show up and volunteer when I can

·      Second and subsequent years – now I understand a bit better what this is all about. I’m up for helping to organize and/or chaperone a tournament or two. I might even be willing to join the Board and help run the team.

If you might be interested in joining the Board, please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of the existing board members who will be happy to talk to you about it.

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