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The joys of debate: Other Voices

By James Naumovski

“How do I get out of here?” was my only thought as I contacted my brother, my confidant, to devise a new ploy to escape debate camp. “Mom is a sucker for health. I’ll just tell her that the food is really unhealthy and all junk food – she’ll let me come home!”

I dropped hints about the bad food. With each phone call, I came closer to my goal. It worked, but Mom asked me to hang in until the weekend. As the week crept by, I kept thinking, “Now’s my chance.” But I never took it.

My mother sent me across the country to Florida to expose me to speech and debate – against my wishes.

The camp was the real deal, a training camp for competitive debaters. When I first arrived, I was out of my depth and hated it. Soon, I stopped wanting to leave.

The math and science kid that everyone pegged me as was beginning to enjoy debate. It was truly a revelation, and I found myself entranced by the social and intellectual aspects of the stimulating environment.

When Mom next checked in, I told her that the food had improved, attempting to convince her without sounding overly fake.

“I think I’ll just stay – I don’t want to put you through the trouble of my leaving camp one week early,” I said, offering to complete the camp and save her the hassle of rescheduling my flight home.

Really, I just wanted to stay, because to put it simply, I loved it. It wasn’t just the camp that hooked me – it was debate.

Now, two years later, debate plays an even larger role in my life. Before tournaments, I spend countless hours researching facts to prove a point. This not only developed my reading skills, it also increased my knowledge of topics ranging from compulsory voting to environmental protection.

National tournaments offer opportunities to exercise these skills. During the downtime between debates, participants socialize. While these conversations may seem trivial, many helped me forge connections. The tension of the competition always hangs over the conversations. This is eased by the support of friends, as we simultaneously experience this phenomenon.

Because debaters must defend and refute both sides of a topic, my position in the debate changes, but my objective remains the same.

Critical-thinking skills play a big role. I have to rebut my opponents’ arguments and dismantle their responses to mine. Debaters must think on their feet.

A good debater must maintain impeccable listening skills. One has to think in conjunction with listening.

Tuning out for even a few seconds could cripple one in a debate – you may miss the crux of your opponent’s position. I have learned to use emotional or logical methods, depending on the judges’ dispositions.

Since becoming hooked on debate, I have wanted to share my skills. I have founded a middle-school speech and debate camp to give back to my team and the community.

I will donate proceeds from the camp to the MVLA Speech and Debate Team. I aim to strengthen and empower our future debaters, as well as make speech and debate a fun and dynamic experience for all.

The camp, scheduled Monday through June 20 at Mountain View High School, offers an opportunity for interested middle-schoolers to learn the skills of debate and share the experience.

For more information, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

James Naumovski is a sophomore at Los Altos High School.

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