Members of debate team head to Tournament of Champions

    Seniors Frances Zhuang (left) and Barry He (right) discuss their upcoming debate tournaments. Both have debated on the National Circuit since 2015. "After you compete for so long, debate becomes part of you," Zhuang said. "I have difficulties separating myself from debate."

    Palo Alto High School seniors Frances Zhuang (left) and Barry He (right) discuss their upcoming debate tournaments. Both are on the Paly Speech and Debate Team and have debated on the national circuit since 2015. “After you compete for so long, debate becomes part of you,” Zhuang said. “I have difficulties separating myself from debate.” Photo: Angelina Wang.

    A member of the Palo Alto High School Speech and Debate team is heading to a prestigious national tournament, the Tournament of Champions, this May in Kentucky.

    Senior Frances Zhuang has already qualified for the tournament, while senior teammate Barry He still needs one more bid to qualify. Receiving a bid requires advancing to a certain point in elimination rounds, where debaters compete against their opponents.

    This will be the second consecutive year Paly students have competed at the TOC.

    After placing in the top eight at the Greenhill Fall Classic this September in Texas, Zhuang received her second bid at Presentation Invitational this month in San Jose, qualifying her to compete at the TOC in Kentucky.

    The TOC is generally considered to be the most selective and competitive tournament in the National Circuit, as only debaters who have received two bids in the season may compete, according to Zhuang. The national circuit is a small group of high school debaters who compete in tournaments across the country.

    Senior Barry He placed in the top four at Presentation, and received his first bid of the season. He is hoping to join Zhuang at the TOC.

    While she enjoys competing, debate is about more than winning for Zhuang. "It definitely changed who I am as a person for me," Zhuang said. "That’s [the competitive aspect of debate] very easy to get caught up in, especially when you’re first starting out."

    While she enjoys competing, debate is about more than winning for Zhuang, she said. “It definitely changed who I am as a person for me,” Zhuang said. “That’s [the competitive aspect of debate] very easy to get caught up in, especially when you’re first starting out.” Photo: Angelina Wang.

    While He has not received his second bid yet, he will be competing alongside Zhuang at the upcoming 84th Annual Puget Sound High School Tournament this January in Washington.

    To prepare for the TOC, Zhuang will be changing up her strategy.

    “We don’t know the topic [for the tournament] yet, [because] we don’t know what other people are going to be reading,” Zhuang said. “This year there’s going to be a lot more of playing to our strengths instead of preparing specific answers to everyone else’s arguments. We want to play on our turf and not theirs. ”

    Though debate can be quite competitive, both Zhuang and He emphasize their passion for the activity and the community.

    “It gives us a voice,” He said. “We have the opportunity to speak out about things that we care about, or about arguments that we believe in. It’s something that school doesn’t offer, because when you’re sitting in math [class], you don’t get the opportunity to talk about social issues, oppression, or critical theory, things like that.”

    Zhuang echoes He’s thoughts, and adds that she appreciates the various skills debate has taught her.

    “Debate is surprisingly educational for something so fun,” Zhuang said. “We would be hard pressed to find another place that teaches us how to be critical activists, how to do research, how to engage in dialogues with people who have different beliefs than us, while still having so much fun and enjoying ourselves.”

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