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  • Writer's pictureOscar Amos

An Interview with Parker’s Debate Captains: Isabella, Noah, and Laynie

In the realm of high school debate, often misconstrued as arguing, debaters develop valuable skills such as rigorous analysis, eloquent persuasion, and a mastery of rhetoric. Students put in a valiant effort toward constructing two thoroughly researched cases, one addressing the affirmative, and the other advocating for the negative side of a routinely changed resolution. The two categories that use this structure are Lincoln-Douglas (LD), a one-versus-one form of debate that focuses on moral duty (often enclosing the word ‘ought’ as opposed to ‘should’) and the effects of a resolution using a framework to employ virtues that encompass one's stance, and Public Forum (PF), a two-versus-two form of debate that focuses on contemporary issues. Opposed to the emphasis on moral outcomes like Lincoln-Douglas, Public Forum typically relies more on evidence-based arguments, practical impacts, and real-world consequences. Parker’s debate team currently has three debate captains. Laynie Henderson ‘25 and Noah Nikolai ‘25 are the co-captains of the Lincoln-Douglas team and Isabela Russo ‘24 is the captain of the Public Forum team. This interview addresses all facets of being a debate captain, with a look into the responsibilities, challenges, skills, and strategies this role entails. 

Debate jargon has been italicized and defined at the bottom of this interview.

  1. What attracted you to your respective category? 

Noah (LD): The fact that I didn't have to deal with anyone else. Sort of not, you know, you know, not having to worry about holding them back or them holding me back and having my success determinant entirely by me was what initially attracted me to LD. 

Izzy (PF): I think working with people is what originally attracted me to it; debate was a scary thing for me so having someone by my side was very attractive to me. Then, I stayed because I feel like having two minds in the round has been super fun, and super interesting. I'm always surprised by what my partners can come up with. I think it's a cool way to collaborate with people.

Laynie (LD): Well, I originally wanted to do PF but then I didn't have a partner and I realized that I don't work very well in groups. So then I decided to do LD and I think it was a much better choice than doing PF.

  1. Imagine you're debating someone advocating for the opposing category. In 30 seconds, explain why I should join your category.

Noah (LD): (In support of LD) In LD, you don't have to put up with other people, don't have to worry about partnerships, and you get to debate the philosophical ideas behind the debate as well as the sort of normal stuff that you would think about when you think about debate. It makes you think in terms of not just what things would happen if we did this but why those things are good or why those things are bad. It makes you better at advocating for a variety of issues regardless of whether or not you believe in them because you get a better hold of these different forms of how we decide if things are good or bad, which I think is really exciting.

Izzy (PF): (In support of PF) You should join PF because one, you can develop great teamwork skills. Two, the resolutions are fun. Three, you can kind of run anything–you don't have to work within a framework. Fourth, having a partner is awesome, you have two minds in the realm, in which you can have some cool ideas. Also Grand Cross is super exciting and fun, and I think everyone should get to experience that.

Laynie (LD): (In support of LD) Okay, LD is just so much cooler because you don't have to rely on a partner and any of the things that you do wrong are entirely your fault. And it's good because it makes you get more accountability, you have to work harder, and it's more fun because you don't have to deal with somebody who doesn't necessarily want to work as hard as you do. PF also has dumber topics and LD’s topics are cool. So that's why you should do LD and not PF.

  1. Now, imagine you're debating someone advocating for your category. In 30 seconds, explain why I should join the category you were just arguing against.

Noah (LD): PF is a lot more fast-paced and has a lot less jargon which you can sometimes have in LD, so it's a lot easier for you to get into, a lot easier to just start debating with if it's your first time. Also, you get to work with a partner, which if you have a really good friend and it works out can be an amazing experience. The speech times are shorter so you don't have to be talking for quite as long and also, it can just provide a different set of experiences and different kinds of challenges because you were growing up against the whole team.

Izzy (PF): (In support of LD) You should join LD because you can work alone and your wins are your wins–your losses are your losses. If people don't like you, it's okay because it's just you, yourself, debating. Getting within a framework is kind of fun, people are also a lot more chill in LD, and there is no Grand Cross.

Laynie (LD): Well, if you do PF, you don't have to write all of your cases because you'll have a partner to help you, it's a little bit easier because there's no framework, and it's basically just who saves more people in the end. You don't have to necessarily write down all of your opponent's arguments when you're in a round because you have somebody else who's there who can also hear what your opponent is saying. It's also a little bit more straightforward than LD is.

  1. How do you balance your own competitive aspirations with the development and success of your team as a whole?

Noah (LD): That's a tricky question. I, for the most part, try to act in a way that they are combined–hopefully, there's nothing that I'm doing that's benefiting me but is harming the rest of the team or vice versa. I try to see everything as a learning experience, even if it's taking time out of my schedule to teach novices. There are still things that you can learn from to improve your debating and anything I do, like working on my case or working on the block file, should be able to benefit the team as a whole.

Izzy (PF): I find that those two are intertwined. When I spend a lot of time with my team, it allows me to develop more as a debater when I realize where my gaps in knowledge are, I can fill those in with my team, and allow [my team] to grow as I grow. I find that the team's growth and my growth competitively are intertwined and if I grow, they grow–if they grow, I grow, and it's really easy to balance it because they test me and show me where my gaps are and I test them and show them where their gaps are. It kind of makes this kind of cool symbiotic relationship that I think we both benefit from.

Laynie (LD): That's a good question. More recently I have tried to put the needs of the team ahead of mine, making sure that everybody else's cases are done, making sure that everybody else kind of knows what they're doing, and then doing my stuff kind of after the fact. But overall, it kind of comes down to what needs the most attention at that moment. So if there's somebody who doesn't have a case done the night before the tournament, then obviously yeah, I'm going to help them before I finish pre-flowing or whatever because they would be the one that really needs the help at that moment. But it just comes down to what's going on and what the situation is.

  1. Can you discuss a challenge you've faced as a debate captain and how you've overcome it?

Noah (LD): As a debate captain, I think being worried about feeling like I have to have the best record on the team or feeling like I have to win debates a lot is a challenge. I believe that there is some pressure there and, you know, you don't want to be the captain of the debate team losing every round you're in, but learning to accept that you're not going to be performing super well at every tournament or expect yourself to win every round. Finding a balance between wanting to do well but not necessarily feeling like there is pressure on every single round or every single tournament.

Izzy (PF): I think it's getting to people–like teaching. I've never taught before and so this transition of ‘how do I be a teacher and a leader’ but also I'm still a student, still you know a senior, an 18-year-old, and still these kids' peers. I wanted to be someone they could talk to, still be chill with, and not be scared of. I know I was scared of my debate coaches when I was a freshman so ‘how do I have a balance of teacher versus peer?’. I've gotten over that by having clear boundaries of like this is what you can talk to me about, this is what you can't talk to me about. There are certain issues I'm not going to discuss because they may be inappropriate or dabble into too many different people's lives, which kind of separates me from being a peer versus being a teacher. It's the boundary setting.

Laynie (LD): One challenge that has come up a lot this year is other people's commitment, my own commitment as well, and making sure that everybody is doing what they need to be doing to succeed at tournaments but also be able to do all their other extracurriculars. That kind of just comes down to talking it out with the coaches and whoever is involved in the situation, and just making sure that they are ready to compete or if they need to not compete.

  1. How do you balance your academic commitments with your role as debate captain?

Noah (LD): If I had the answer I'd tell you. I've just been kind of winging it so far. I haven't failed any of my classes so that's a good sign. It's a good question–I wish I had a good answer but I guess I just put debate as a priority where I can because it's something I enjoy doing. But then if I have something that's come up and is urgent for school, like a test or whatever, then that takes priority when they come into conflicts.

Izzy (PF): I think it all comes down to time management of figuring out what I have to get done for my schoolwork and what I have to get done for debate for myself and the team to teach. It comes down to time management–how much time am I gonna spend on this? I kind of determine that by looking at what needs to get done first.

Laynie (LD): Debate definitely comes first for me, but that doesn't mean that I don't balance my other work as well. I make sure that debate gets done first, because to me it's a bit more of a priority, but I also have to make sure that my schoolwork gets done as well because I can't fall behind and be doing debate at the same time. So I have to make sure that the things that I do are balanced and scheduled, and it really helps me with my time management to make sure I'm balancing everything together.

  1. What is your favorite part of being a debate caption and the most challenging?

Noah (LD): More or less the same answer here for both of these is, especially novice debaters–teaching them and watching them get better. It's really exciting to watch them grow and progress and especially beat other novices. I taught them how to do that but it's also very difficult to teach them how to do that because they're novices and they don't know anything heading into this, so it's really exciting to watch it happen. It's like watching a puppy learn how to be a dog but it's also very difficult and time-consuming.

Izzy (PF): My favorite part has been seeing the novices grow. I am so impressed, considering that I am their teacher and I am very inexperienced. Seeing their growth has been pretty awesome and I'm very proud of them. The most challenging is probably, I guess aiding that growth of ‘how do I get them to grow by being excited about debate?’ and getting them to invest in their future as a debater but getting them excited about it and teaching them more.

Laynie (LD): Ooh, they’re kind of the same thing–I really love getting to teach the novices just how to debate. This year especially I have come to enjoy that part more than actually debating. I absolutely love teaching and working through challenges like that and it's so much fun but it can be a real challenge because it can be really hard to kind of explain the more complex sides of debate to people who have no idea what I'm talking about, but it's still super fun.

  1. How do you foster teamwork and collaboration among your debate peers?

Noah (LD): Just trying to make sure that everyone knows we're on the same team. Obviously, part of the reason I like debate is that it’s an individual activity, especially in LD, but just making sure everyone knows we're on the same team. For example, when someone does well at the tournament or is up for getting awards, make sure everyone is cheering them on and even if you don't do well at the tournament, still taking pride in your teammates. I think that builds a good amount of teamwork because it drives you to see others succeed as well.

Izzy (PF): In our classes specifically,  most of them are discussion-based. I don't do any lecture-based classes–we're constantly talking. I always say like, okay, let's look at this case together, let's cut this block together, let's talk about the topic together. There's always a discussion going on and I think that kind of helps the debaters engage with each other and make them feel comfortable with me, with each other as a team, and with their own ideas being shared with the team.

Laynie (LD): We have had to just start setting some very specific guidelines for how people have to work together. Especially with the block file, that kind of becomes an issue and just making sure that everybody is doing what they're supposed to be doing. I mean it kind of just comes down to accountability and knowing that if you don't do your part then you have to know that other people on your team might not succeed because you haven't been pulling your weight. I think that's kind of the biggest part. 

  1. Can you share some examples of how debate has helped you develop–personally or academically?

Noah (LD): Yeah, I feel more comfortable just talking to people. Having gone through the experience of cross-examination especially where, for three minutes straight, someone gets to ask you whatever they want and tries to rip everything you just said to pieces; it makes you a lot more confident going up to strangers who probably aren't trying to tear you down. It's calming for me at least to know that even if they decided to, for whatever reason, just try to absolutely destroy me, I know how to defend myself a little bit because I've had that kind of experience in debate.

Izzy (PF): For me, when I look at little Isabella as a freshman when she first joined debate, who is just doing it out of peer pressure, I think I became a more confident person, a more well-spoken person, a more experimental person. Like I'm willing to kind of just do something for the sake of trying. Debate kind of has allowed me to be a more vibrant version of myself and that's something I'm grateful for.

Laynie (LD): I think it has made me a lot more confident and it's made me be able to voice my own opinion a lot better. In school, in general, that has been helpful in kind of doing research and knowing what's going on in the world when I am writing papers or doing projects. Things that I have learned from debate can translate over into other classes and it's become really helpful when doing what I'm doing because if I have a good view of what's going on in the world right now, I can usually correlate it pretty well with my schoolwork.

  1. Lastly, what advice would you give to someone reluctant to join debate?

Noah (LD): I think just give it a try. And if debate as a competitive activity isn't the thing for you, then I completely understand that. I think that everyone should at least give debate a try and see what it's like because once you do debate, it's sort of a way for you to frame everything that you see in life. I know that sounds weird, but sort of understanding that all the different kinds of arguments and counter-arguments help you put into a box every argument or every claim that you'll ever hear in your entire life. I think that's a very useful skill to have, especially in the modern day where people can basically say whatever they want and just sort of learning to deal with statistics, evidence, and figuring out what is a good and a bad argument is a useful skill for everyone to have. So even if you don't think the competitive part is good for you, just try it out and at least learn a little bit. Then, if you do find out that you like the team aspect of it and like being competitive, then I'm sure you're gonna have a wonderful time.

Izzy (PF): Just go for it–there's no harm. There's really no harm in it. If you don't like it, you can always drop the class or just take the class and not do tournaments. Just try it and be prepared because it is a huge learning curve. There's no doubt everyone struggles in their first, even their second year. It took me three years to figure out what a final focus speech is and what it is–it just takes time. But when you invest that time into figuring it out, it's an awesome skill that I think everyone should be able to access.

Laynie (LD): Just do it. Even if you do it for only a year, it's so much fun, you meet a whole lot of really great people, and it's just a beneficial life skill all around. It can seem super intimidating because you know, it's a lot of work but it's work that once you know what you're doing is really, really fun to do. It's super enjoyable to do research and find arguments that are interesting and know what you're talking about. That is totally a reason to join debate and want to improve your skills in that way.

Debate Jargon:

Resolution: A specific statement or question up for debate. Interchangeable with the term ‘topic’.

Grand Cross: A three-minute questioning period in Public Forum Debate before the last pair of speeches when all four debaters take turns asking each other questions.

Framework: How to “frame” how the debate will be understood— both by the debaters and by the judge.

Case: A document withholding arguments for a debaters stance (Affirmative or Negative), supported by cited evidence

Block: A prepared response to an anticipated argument

Block File: I file containing responses to possible arguments of the opposite side, sometimes supported by cited evidence.

Flow: A technique of note-taking that helps you keep track of the arguments, evidence, and responses in a debate round.

Pre-Flowing: The process of writing (or flowing) your own case, as if you were listening to someone read your speech before the round begins.

Novice Debater: A debater who has been involved in the activity for less than a year.

Cross-Examination: A period of time between speeches where opponents ask each other questions about the resolution to find holes in or clarify opponents’ arguments.

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1 Comment

Selah Vigil
Selah Vigil
Mar 26

Wow, it shows how much these captains care!

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