Debate Team Argues Their Way To Success

By Mara Shapiro

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The debate team meets after school in room 3000. PHOTO by Carolina Bedoya

Social Studies teacher Eric Oddo walks around room 3000, telling his debate team to be louder in their annunciation activity. The kids are staring intently at research written on pieces of paper they grabbed  from a box that is kept in the closet in the room, and start reading so fast that all I hear is buzzing. The kids, besides reading huge words really fast, have to either say “uh” or “a” between every word.  This activity is to help with the annunciation, because it turns out a judge can take off points for that, and this team wants to win. They don’t want points to be taken away from something such as annunciation issues.

Besides the club’s 25 solid kids and their dedication, time, and effort devoted to the club, the club started off with the ideas of  Oddo and Math teacher Matthew Fahrenbacher. Both Oddo and Fahrenbacher debated for their high schools, New Trier and Elk Grove respectively, and loved their experiences so much that they wanted the kids at Niles West to share in their happiness as well.

“I loved [debate]. I really loved competing. The knowledge really helped me in high school and college,” Oddo says.

“[Debate] was a really worthwhile experience for myself and I wanted to share it with the students at Niles West, too,” Fahrenbacher says.

Thus, the debate team at Niles West was born. They meet in room 3000 every Monday and Tuesday, starting at 3:30 p.m. and ending at 5 p.m. so that the kids can catch the bus. There are also work days on the weekends, not to mention tournaments all over the country. But, like every team, academic or not, before they can get to their tournaments they need to practice, practice, and lastly, practice.

The day that I watched the debate team, there was a lot of practice going on. The team has many tournaments coming up, and their coaches have high expectations.

“I’d like us to be National Champions. We’d like to make a strong program and compete against other schools. We’d also like to

The debate team. PHOTO by Carolina Bedoya

win state at every level and do well nationally,” Fahrenbacher says.

Senior captain Sarika Malani agrees with Fahrenbacher.

“[We] want to do well this year…. so that debate doesn’t disappear,” Malani says.

The club is kind of an AP class, without  the dreaded AP test at the end of the year. The kids, however, don’t seem to mind the long, time-consuming season from September to April.

“I like meeting new people and I learn a lot. [I also like] learning about issues,” says senior Rimsha Baig.

The current issue that the team is debating about is the affirmative, or positive, impacts in reducing U.S. Federal troops in Afghanistan. The team will be arguing in that reducing the troops, there will be a decrease in terrorism and increase in stability. Unfortunately, because this is the first year of a debate team at Niles West, the students didn’t really get the chance to research material at debate camp over the summer. That’s right, the team gets homework over the summer.  The  camps are not at local high school;, instead the kids go to prestigious colleges. A few that only 10 of the students will be attending this summer are at Northwestern, Dartmouth, and Stanford. The kids will do their research and bring back evidence for next year’s topic: space. Other topics that a debate team could discuss would be politics, global warming, philosophy, biodiversity, and dehumanization.

As you can see, Oddo and Fahrenbacher want their team to win. They have already won three tournaments in the novice division at Iowa City West, Lane Tech, and Kelly high schools. They  have also come in second place at the Ohio Valley tournament at the University of Kentucky.

“I’m really proud of the kids…. it really shows the talent. [They are] a great group of kids,” Oddo says.

Oddo especially is adamant in working the kids hard at practice. At a recent practice, he set up a video on Youtube about the “negative block”  in which all students had to take notes about. Next year, a debate class is set to run, which will allow students to practice debate more during the school day.

Junior Nashiha Alam says the team is eager to improve and win.

“The class next year will help. Camp [will also] help. We just need more work sessions and we’ll improve,” Alam says.

So, if you like to argue, want to be a lawyer, or want to learn some valuable life lessons, join debate! The students work hard, but yet still have fun at the same time.

“[Debate] is a really great experience and it’s a great learning experience,” says freshman Emma Lazar, who has one first place in one tournament and second in another.

The next competition is this Friday against The National Forensic League National Qualifications for the Northern Illinois District.