Two Healdsburg locals were the only undefeated team in their division
Two Sonoma Academy (SA) students from Healdsburg took home some impressive trophies for their recent debate team wins at the Golden Desert Invitational held at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas earlier this month.
The students, freshman Ivy Brenner and sophomore Tabatha Stewart, also landed a run in the semifinals where they reached the top four spot in the tournament.
The duo finished their preliminary rounds as the tournament’s top seed and were the only undefeated team in their division according to SA debate coach Lani Frazer.
“We were really excited,” Brenner said about the win. “The best we’ve done has been at Las Vegas. We have done really well at the last few tournaments and we’ve decided at our next tournament we are going to move up a division, which we are really excited about.”
Stewart added that although it is nice to win an award — their Las Vegas trophy is a miniature light-up version of the famous Las Vegas sign — the exciting part is knowing that you worked hard to earn it.
“You don’t really just get an award and are excited about it ... you earn it,” Stewart said. “After the elimination rounds if you have a winning record, or are undefeated, you’re allowed to go onto the elimination rounds, then you just continue debating until you lose.”
The ins and outs of debate
The SA team focuses on policy debate and each debate season has a different topic. This year’s topic is arms sales.
The team has to research the topic and prepare their arguments prior to each tournament and update them continuously throughout the season.
Brenner and Stewart explained what the debate competition process is like.
The policy debate is comprised of local and circuit tournaments with teams from across the country.
Brenner or Stewart will give a speech and then someone from the other team will give a speech and the process will repeat multiple times, going back and forth.
There are usually six pre-elmination rounds and every other round they have to switch argument sides.
Competitions are judged in various ways. In pre-elimination rounds there are one to two judges who give you speaker points for how well you spoke.
The elimination rounds are judged by three judges.
Before Stewart and Brenner go into a round they’ll adjust their arguments and review their points based on who they are debating against.
“All the different teams in the tournament will have different arguments that they’ve prepared and there is a website where you can find arguments that they’ve run in the past and different documents and citations and about 30 minutes before a pre-elimination round and an hour before an elimination round they tell you who your opponent is going to be, and then you can make a few more arguments that are more specific to what they’ll be saying against your points,” Brenner said.
A love for debate
For both students, debate has been a labor of love.
“I’ve always loved to debate against people, I was just never formally good at it,” Stewart said. “And so freshman year when I came, the humanities teacher asked me to join and I said ‘OK.’”
For Brenner, debate was something that was in the family. Her grandfather did debate and told her about it.
“I always was interested in debate and I thought it was really exciting and my grandfather did debate and he talks about it because he would always tell me that I would be good at it,” Brenner said.
Brenner then went to a week-long speech and debate summer camp at SA, the summer before high school, where she met Frazer.
“This September was when I went to my first tournament and joined the team,” she said.
When asked what they like most about being on the team, they both said they enjoy debating against people, but also making friends and meeting new people.
Stewart added that the environment overall is “splendid.”
“It is not just making friends within our little school community, you also make friends across the U.S. and out of the U.S., it is a great way to get to know people,” she said.
In terms of challenges with debate, the two reported that they haven’t had a lot of major issues this year, however, time management and being on to go can be a challenge.
“It is really worth it,” Stewart said. “One of the biggest challenges we have been facing recently is just a general challenge in a lot of debate, is that there is no objective way to judge a debate round because it is all up to the judges interpretations.”
Both Stewart and Brenner want to continue with debate in high school.
Their coach, Frazer, said she is quite proud of their work and what they have accomplished.
“The have something really special I think that I haven’t seen in all of the other students I’ve coached and that is this determination and resilience,” Frazer said. “They have such a good attitude. They want to keep debating at the higher levels and push themselves further and further even if they know it is going to be a difficult debate, even if they know they may lose. They would rather get that good experience than to win at a lower level, they are much more interested in learning, and improving and trying their best.”