A Tale of Two Clubs: Speech versus Debate

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Mr. Jim Dunning

The Lincoln-Douglas debate team meets to discuss strategy.

Shivani Row, Staff Writer

People often get confused with the difference between the Broad Run Speech team and the Debate team. Though they’re combined into one term that everyone refers to, they’re actually completely different teams. Students participate in different kinds of activities for practices and competitions in each team.

Both Speech and Debate focus on helping students with different forms of communication, whether through presenting to an audience or arguing with an opponent. While debate focuses on analyzing different arguments and being respectful of each other’s opinions while researching evidence to back up your own argument, speech focuses more on rhetoric – how you say the arguments that you do, and how you use your body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc., to best communicate your idea.

While Speech is one whole team in itself, there are different categories. In Declamation, you can find a speech online and edit it to make it ten minutes, make it your own, memorize it, and present it to the judges on the day of the competition. This is a very popular category. There’s also Original Oratory, where you get to write your own ten-minute speech, memorize it, and present it. Sophomore Nancy Qiao said, “[Original Oratory] is really fun for me because I can write out my own speech and improve my writing and presenting skills. It’s just [different] because I get to have my own speech that I just keep working on and perfecting when I get feedback from the team captain and judges during the competitions.” Dramatic/Humorous interpretation is similar to Declamation, but it’s more theatrical in the sense that you have to get into character and act it out like you’re part of the story instead of just narrating it. There are a few other categories as well, but they all focus on presenting different kinds of speeches.

In Debate, there are separate teams that focus on different kinds of topics to debate about. There are four teams in Debate: Public Forum, Policy, Lincoln-Douglas, and Congressional Debate. In Congressional Debate, the environment is similar to that of a Congress chamber, so legislations are proposed and then debated about. Public Forum and Policy are similar in that you have a partner that you debate with during practices and competitions. The main difference is that in Policy Debate, you have one topic that you’re working on to perfect your argument for the whole year, while in Public Forum you spend less time on each topic, around one to two months, before moving on to another. 

The Lincoln-Douglas team participates in moral and ethical discussions. Srisha Raj, a junior and captain of the Lincoln-Douglas debate team, said, “In LD, we kind of weigh, [for example] why would I choose an Apple pen over a regular pen?  What are the morals and values that go behind those decisions? And I really love thinking about why we make the decisions that we do rather than focusing on the decisions themselves.”

Then come the intimidating Speech and Debate competitions. Competitions are similar for both teams in that they both participate in WACFL (Washington Arlington Catholic Forensics League). There are four rounds for every competition day, so you perform your speech/debate with an opponent four times. There are usually three or four other people in the room with you who will perform their speech or debate, as well as the judge. If you score high enough, you can place at the competition. Near the end of the year, you have a chance to participate in NCFL, the national circuit, if you qualify from previous competitions.

There’s been a lot more interest this year in Speech and Debate, especially with middle schoolers. Broad Run Speech and Debate is now open to Farmwell students in 7th and 8th grade. This has significantly increased the numbers of new participants, especially because we’ve come back to school and more people are aware of the team. Raj said, “The number [of new members] has increased drastically this year. It’s, as a whole, doubled in size. This is a huge success because the core message that communication is important in our lives is being more widespread, as early as seventh and eighth graders.”

Though it’s been a difficult transition from purely online practices to in-person, Speech and Debate participants are excited about the new opportunities they’ll get this year.