~~ originally written for the 2013-2014 year of Ringgold High School's school paper, The Ram Pride ~~
In my sophomore year, I stepped up to a podium in Ringgold High School's library, unruffled my lined paper full of my sloppy notes as much as I could, and gave a speech filled with statistics about drugs and football stadiums. This was my first time participating in a GEAR-sponsored debate at RHS, and it was a rather in invigorating experience. It remained the same rewarding thrill every time I did it afterwards.
Anyway, I got up there and gave my rebuttal speech, and our team full of tenth graders beat a team full with upperclassmen. I did a good job, which is a belief supported by my peers as well as the GEAR instructor at the time. We even went on to the championship, because our team scored higher than any other affirmative team. My quality stayed the same in the championship round, save for apparently coming off as petty and rude, according to some peers as well as one of the judges. The topic was drug testing for student athletes, a topic I really didn't have much of an opinion on prior. As we researched the topic, I started to support the side I was defending, starting my streak of always debating on the side of an issue I agree with.
I find debate much more satisfying if I am defending ideas I actually think are good. So, as the lefty liberal I am, I debated in favor of Barack Obama for president, in favor of marijuana legalization in Pennsylvania, against NSA spying, and finally just last April, in favor of a federal minimum wage increase to $10.10. It felt good to debate against the ruthlessly robotic Mitt Romney. It felt good to defend adults thrown in jail for putting a relatively harmless substance into their own bodies. It felt good debating against an over-reaching spying program that throws privacy out the window in exchange for a minuscule level of defense against terrorism. And finally, it felt good to throw my hat in the ring for a minimum wage increase from it's pathetically low amount of $7.25 to a much more reasonable number of $10.10. Debating in favor of my own opinion was even more gratifying when I knew that my opponents were also defending their own opinions; I know I was able to have that experience for all of my debates except for the marijuana one, which, perhaps not coincidentally, was my toughest debate.
There are four people on each team, two doing what is called a constructive speech and the other two doing what is called a rebuttal speech. For my first two debates, I did a rebuttal speech, and for my last three I did a constructive. As the name implies, the rebuttals are speeches directly refuting the opposing team's arguments, and are done during the latter half of the debate. They are two minutes long, and are generally expected to be mostly put together during the actual debate because of the nature of the speech, although many don't follow this notion. I always did; I would write an opening sentence and a closing sentence prior, and then make bullet points during the debate. It certainly worked in my favor because both my peers and the judges took note. A rebuttal speech is much better when it is clear that the speaker is actually directly addressing what the opposing team said, rather than guessing in a speech written before hand.
Because of how the program is structured, the constructive speakers are typically seen as more important than the rebuttal speakers. I have a hard time avoiding running my mouth and love attention, so I much preferred this route. Constructive speakers give a three-minute speech expected to be pre-written (although some very rarely speak off the cuff), are cross-examined by an opposing constructive speaker for two minutes, and then cross-examine the other opposing constructive speaker for two minutes. I have been passionate about writing ever since I was in sixth grade, so I always wrote a very good speech. My first time, I had a hard time on the cross-examination (we faced a very good team and were perhaps overly confident given the topic of weed legalization), but the two debates afterwards, I think it is safe to say that I did a positively great job on the crosses. The audiences' reactions were a bit animated in their support of me during these crosses, and the judges we're immensely positive. My opponents sure didn't like me after a cross, though, which I think is lovely.
I suppose I have some advice. When cross-examining, address your opponent in the form of a question as much as possible. This forces them to address exactly what you want them to address, leaving them little room to respond with some other point. When your opponent is very weak on a certain point, it works wonders to ask a solid question, and then simply let them talk for all to hear. You must come off as dominant over your opponent to the audience and the judges during crosses; this means politely but firmly finishing your sentences when they try to interrupt. Crosses are all about looking good and making your opponents squirm. When it comes to the constructive speeches, I'd say the first speaker's speech should be more focused on a more emotional, moral argument, and the second speaker's should be focused on a heavier, statistic-laden argument. This eases the audience and judges into your side, first pulling them in and then affirming the position. And again on rebuttals, please don't pre-write; it misses the point entirely, although judges tend not to be nearly as harsh on this as they should be.
The astoundingly low participation for the last debate is alarming to me; there were only two teams entered (usually there is around at least six), and a comparatively small audience. Two of the three judges were also chosen the day of the debate. If things keep going down this path, I fear the program won't even exist anymore, which would be a huge shame on the school. But since I am graduating this year, making sure the program is strong is a job that falls on the 2014-15 school year of faculty and students.
All I can do is remember my history with the GEAR debate program; it's a pleasant thing for me to do. I loved my experiences participating in this program. Throwing on a nice suit and sneakers, feeling good about defending my ideals, and flexing the writing and speaking skills I am so keen on keeping sharp were always a joy. Whenever I'm arguing with friends about politics or about the fairness of my play-style in a video game or about the new item at McDonalds in the future, I'll think back on my times shutting down my opponents in my high school debates.