With a roster of strong student debaters, the MVLA Speech and Debate team has been performing consistently well throughout the season.
Lincoln-Douglas debater and club president, senior Salim Damerdji, is currently ranked ninth for Lincoln-Douglas debate by debaterankings.com in the nation. In February, he competed in three major tournaments and placed within the top five in all three: The Golden Desert Invitational in Las Vegas, Nevada (2nd place), The Berkeley Invitational (3rd place) and the Stanford Invitational (5th place).
Salim’s performances at these tournaments have earned him three “bids” to the Tournament of Champions (ToC), the most prestigious high school debate tournament in the nation.
“The ToC determines which tournaments deserve bids based on which are the toughest within the nation,” Salim said. “They determine the bid level that each tournament gets…[they] say that if you are top ‘x,’ then you get a bid at this tournament.”
All debaters who receive at least two bids qualify for the ToC, which means Salim has secured his spot, becoming the first student from the school to receive a ToC invitation since 2011. While the ToC isn’t until May, Salim is already preparing for the Lincoln-Douglas Debate topic, which is whether developing countries should prioritize environmental protection over resource extraction when the two are in conflict.
Debate techniques often vary depending on geography, so Salim anticipates that his biggest challenge at the ToC will be knowing how to debate people with different styles.
“I’ve been able to be successful on a national level by [mostly] debating in California, but…these debaters who I infrequently see, only when they travel to California, will be at the ToC,” Salim said. “I am now preparing against tricky debaters, for instance, who I rarely deal with [such as] debaters who read critiques and are from Texas.”
Although he’ll be facing the best of the best—the top 70 debaters from across the nation—Salim is optimistic about his chances of placing highly.
“If I work as hard as I’m expecting to work, [my] realistic goal would probably be quarter-finals, so top eight, but of course, you always want to think about winning it all,” Salim said.
One of the school’s public forum teams, comprised of juniors Ben Gardner-Gill and Ashwin Vaidyanathan, have also been having a strong season.
“We’ve made it to the elimination rounds of all but one tournaments we’ve been at, and we’ve had a winning record in each,” Ben said. “In November, we made it to the finals at the University of the Pacific tournament, where we also earned a bid to the Tournament of Champions.”
The duo did not receive a second bid this year. However, there’s still a small chance that they might be able to attend the ToC.
“We are going to apply for the Tournament of Champions in April,” Ashwin said. “You usually need two bids to get in, but sometimes they allow teams with one ToC bid to enter.”
If Ben and Ashwin are accepted into the ToC, they’ll be spending most of April preparing for their assigned topic. Public forum has a different debate topic each month.
“The topics are usually very relevant to current world events…[for example] during Iran’s nuclear buildup in October, our topic was unilateral military force by the U.S. is justified to prevent nuclear proliferation,” Ashwin said.
If they don’t qualify for the ToC, Ben and Ashwin will be competing at the upcoming Santa Clara Invitational in April, where they’ll be trying out different events.
“We’re both just hoping to have a good time and learn about these new events at the [Santa Clara] tournament, not to win,” Ben said.
Overall, the Speech and Debate team is on track to keep improving over the next few years.