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South Valley Riverton Journal

Riverton-based Wasatch Independent Debate League team competes in New York City

Jun 06, 2023 09:15AM ● By Morgan Olsen

Alexander Henage, Bronson Bishop and Richard Henage compete at the Elite 8 round of the International Public Policy Forum Global Debate Competition in New York City. (Alexander Henage/Wasatch Independent Debate League)

The Wasatch Independent Debate League won an all-expense paid trip to New York City as they won the Sweet 16 round of essay debates, qualifying them to compete in the Elite 8 live debate finals round of the International Public Policy Forum Global Debate Competition.

“One important thing that came out during all of the rounds, but especially in this Sweet 16 round, was getting to what the core of the debate was,” team member Alexander Henage said. “The other team was giving good arguments but weren’t really at the core of what the topic was. That was something we were able to do well and probably the reason we won that debate.”

The team, made up of Alexander Henage, Richard Henage and Bronson Bishop, felt that their performance in the Sweet 16 round prepared them to take their debate to the next level as they prepared for the finals round. 

“I think one of the best things we learned in the 16 round was how important it is to get down to the core issues,” Bishop said. “It was important to understand all the intricacies of the resolution. That helped us a lot in this debate and in the finals. It was really valuable in understanding the topic from a geopolitical standpoint. The round of 16 was one of the most informative rounds for me.”

The outcome of the round of 16 would determine the team’s eligibility for the Elite 8 finals round, so preparation was more intense than preceding rounds may have been.

“The stakes were raised in this round,” Richard Henage said. “I think we put a lot more effort into this round than the other ones. We spent a full month working on it. It was definitely a much bigger debate for us.”

The debate topic remains the same throughout the entire competition, with this year’s topic being the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, specifically whether NATO is good or bad for international cooperation. The team was assigned to argue in the affirmative for the round of 16 debate and won, earning them the all-expense paid trip to New York City for a live debate in the Elite 8 round. 

“We had just over a month to get ready for New York City, so we did a lot of preparation,” Alexander Henage said. “Bronson’s family runs an Airbnb so, as we were preparing, they were kind enough to let us stay there for a few days. We would just go there and work on that from sunup to sundown. We had to practice switching from the strategies we’d use in the essay round to the strategies we’d need to use in the live debate round.”

During their monthlong preparation, the team conducted practice debates over Zoom for one hour each morning. 

“We practiced debates over Zoom and we’d invite guests,” Richard Henage said. “We had our uncle, who is a lawyer, give us feedback on our arguments. We also had access to essays of other teams from past years who had gone to the Elite 8, and we got practice using those to see some of the strategies they used.”

The live debates were different from the usual essay-style debates used in previous rounds, and the team used different strategies to make their points more concisely.

“Not only was the time we had to give our speech shorter, but we only had a 90 second break between arguments,” Alexander Henage said. “Bronson assigned each of us roles during the debate and that was really helpful. I would write down the central question of the debate and it helped us be able to focus our replies and get to the core of the argument.”

The team was assigned to debate in the affirmative in the Elite 8 round, just as they did in the Sweet 16 round, but the time constraints of a live debate were something they had to adjust to.

“We had less time to lay things out and we couldn’t have a long introduction and conclusion like we are usually able to,” Richard Henage said. “We focused on the affirmative in this debate and we ended up focusing just on one argument instead of having multiple arguments to back up our point. That part was very different. It was fun to have the judges ask questions in the cross-examination period. We got more in depth than we would have in a written debate.”

The trip to New York City was a first for each of the team members. They enjoyed being able to experience the thrill of a live debate, followed by some exploration of the city. Ultimately, the team lost their Elite 8 round debate, but they chose to make the best of their time in the Big Apple.

“It was new for all of us,” Bishop said. “We got to see all the sights and eat street food. We saw a Broadway play. We tried to do it all in the five days we were there.”

Bishop, a junior, plans to return to the team next year. He was grateful for the experience of the live debate rounds and says he learned helpful skills that he will use going into next year.

“Judges are really important to the debate,” he said. “It’s not really that we didn’t understand that going into the round of 8, but we weren’t watching out for the concerns of the judges as much as we could’ve been. The cross-examination period is a huge opportunity to pick up on what the judges care about and what they’re looking for.”

The team developed a great bond and developed their friendships to a deeper level through working together.

“I learned how to work on a team better and trust each other,” Richard Henage said. “This was a year-long team experience. I learned to trust in and rely on our team members and that is a great skill to learn going forward.”

Seniors Alexander and Richard Henage are grateful for their time in the debate league and will take the lessons they’ve learned this year to help them in future endeavors.

“One thing my debate teacher said which was pretty insightful was ‘do not compete in debate if you can’t stand losing,’” Alexander Henage said. “That’s probably the biggest thing I learned from the finals - learn to lose. It was a good skill to be able to accept that we lost the round. I think that will be helpful as I go throughout life.” λ