Debate Club Earns National Ranking

Ranked 3rd in the nation for Parliamentary Debate, the debate club celebrated its most successful year since being founded in 2012 by seniors Peter Moore, Thomas Liao, and Conor Hanvey.

“Natural progression” has led the club from “nowhere to being somewhere,” said Liao, who has been debating since 8th grade.

“It’s grown a lot. When he (Liao) first started it, it was 10 or 12 people. Now we have 30-40 people and we have great coaches and we go to a lot more tournaments. We’re nationally recognized now,” said club president and junior Austin Li. “Definitely the coaching is really important and also the commitment of the debaters has pushed us to where we are now. This year versus last year, I guess we just have more experience and we know what we’re doing.”

“It’s become much more of a community. More friendships, sense of bonding. It’s become more of a team rather than just a club and people are more into it and really enjoy it more,” said Moore, who believes the key is practice. “My partners Connor and Thomas, we’ve all been doing this for a long time, so this year I guess it’s just kind of the peak. So we did well at some of the big tournaments. Just doing something for long enough, you just get better and better and I think we’ve reached that point.”

Next year, the club will lose its founding members. “They’re the ones who started the club so I guess there’s a sense of detachment from them but also the club being a function by itself without the founding people so there’s definitely been a sense of independence and growing more as ourselves, ” said freshman Shannon Bonet, who has debated for 2 years.

In addition, head coach Jake Glendenning, who has been joined this year by 2 assistant coaches, Carmen Terlaje and Fatima Al Amir, plans to retire, leaving Al Amir in charge.

Moore credits his success in debate to Glendenning. “He’s been tremendously supportive and positive and also very knowledgable so he’s taught me a lot,” said Moore. He believes Terlaje and Al Amir will be able to “live up to what Jake has created.”

“Jake had been there from the beginning so he was very helpful and has held our team together. We have a lot of key members in debate who do a lot of the leadership work, but I think we have a community that can work together,” said Bonet. “I wouldn’t want to stress that there are more important people because not everyone has the time to be involved 100 percent of their time. Obviously there is leadership who pulls everyone together. They work very hard.”

“It’s not like swimming where you have a single coach. Jake coaches for us but also a lot of the administrative leadership tasks are student run,” explained Liao.

The students are why Bonet has continued to invest in debate. “I’d have to say that the reason why I liked debate and continue to join debate is the comradeship and the friendships that I have and also the interest older students put in me,” she said.

“I’d have to say Conor and Peter and Thomas – those 3, to keep something alive that they like, that they want kids to keep doing an activity that they find important and beneficial to us – seeing them put so much interest and investment, even though they’re leaving this year, I always strive to, I wouldn’t say mirror, but take some part of what they’ve built and continue to do so,” Bonet added.

“A sense of determination and energy to achieve” is what Bonet believes she personally brings to the team. “Kids who go into debate, they’re not only dedicated, they’re also very smart and eager to learn, and they don’t have to debate every single day, but they are willing and they are eager to engage, and debaters are all talkative, so it’s always very lively,” she said.

The hardest part of debate is also the most rewarding, according to Moore. “Most difficult? Probably working with other peers who can be difficult to work with and especially in a leadership setting where we have to run and continuously manage everything. It’s tough. But that’s probably also the best thing about being on the team. It’s rewarding seeing the development and the growth of each of the debaters and the growth of the team as a whole.”

“The best part is that I have a sense of belonging with the people I’ve become essentially best friends with. The difficulty, you know, if you get too engaged in one thing it takes as much out of you as you put into it. So I guess the difficulty would be being able to balance the love you have for it as much as it weighs on you,” said Bonet.

Club secretary Sophie Stankus most enjoys bonding with her teammates during competition. “I think the most fun part is when everybody goes to tournaments together because it’s a really close group because you’re kind of crammed in the room for 12 hours straight without food and you get to know each other,” she said. “The most difficult part is probably just showing up to all the practices and staying really late on Friday nights.”

At tournaments, the teams are given a topic, a side to argue, and 20 minutes to prepare their argument. The club’s biggest rivals have been Evergreen Valley, Sonoma Academy, and Los Altos High Schools. “Sometimes we have invitationals so we travel, so we went to Stanford, that was very fun. Normally it’s at the university. Competing is very fun. Winning is very nice. When you’re better than the other team it’s very fun, unless you’re not and you have to get better,” said Liao.

As for the team’s national ranking, Liao hopes still to advance further. “We could do better. There’s still a little bit of time for that to change,” he said.