By Sierra Maciorowski

“In an era where our public leaders seem incapable of understanding each other’s perspectives and points of view,” said Head of School Janet Durgin, “in debate, you are forced to really dig into views that are often different from your own.”

Most debaters have strong opinions on every issue around. From police militarization and brutality to liquid fluoride thorium reactors and fracking, however, every issue has multiple sides.

Many tournaments run in accordance with California High School Speech Association rules involve hundreds of debaters and broad debate topics, like the comparison of televisions’ and computers’ role in society.

However, the Tournament of Champions, to be hosted at Sonoma Academy on April 11-12, is nothing like this. Twenty-four of the most competent debate partnerships in the nation will come together to debate clear topics, with full internet prep, competent judges, and unique perspectives.

“The level of competition is higher than at any other debate tournament,” said senior Logan Noel, who qualified to and attended the Tournament of Champions last year at Claremont High School. “It attracts people who really care about parli[amentary] debate, so they’re really prepared for the competition.”

What does this mean for SA’s debate team?

“Sonoma Academy is on the map in terms of forensics,” Durgin said. “And having people actually come to our campus makes that that much more real and tangible.”

Where once Sonoma Academy debaters used to be known for their matching, Slytherin-style ties, competitors now know SA’s debaters themselves–several teams of whom are currently ranked 3rd, 8th, 18th, and 30th in the nation.

However, rankings are not everything. Some of the most beneficial parts of the forensics program lie in the gifts it gives to its participants–and the school.

“Since we began the forensics program, I feel that the level of rhetoric across the school has improved,” said Durgin. “The quality of ad-hoc, impromptu speech at community meetings is improved.”

With nearly 20% of the student body participating in forensics, it comes as little surprise that the program’s creation around six years ago has had lasting impacts on the student population as a whole. And though the forensics program used to have only small bullet points in the school presentations at open house, it now has a full slide–representing the usefulness of the program as a draw for prospective students.

In addition to this competitive advantage which SA gains from having a distinguished forensics program, Durgin said, “Th[e program] has [had] a tremendously positive impact on the entire school.”

However, the positivity goes both ways. “I don’t have data to support it,” Durgin explained, “but I would like to imagine these are reciprocal efforts: I think [the] interdisciplinary nature of our programs allows students to excel in forensics.”

As for hosting the Tournament of Champions in the spring?

“It’s yet another feather in the cap of the forensics program, and [it] makes me really happy for Brandon [Spars], especially,” said Durgin.

But although hosting the first debate tournament in Sonoma Academy history will be an invigorating experience, more valuable is the atmosphere which forensics bring to the table.

“The other thing that I love about the forensics program,” Durgin said, “is that it [has] wonderful inside traditions: the knocks, [and the] slightly acerbic, and yet respectful kind of humor that seems to be part of the culture of the forensics team. I love watching [speech and debaters]
diss each other,” she said. “In an articulate, sarcastic, and yet ultimately respectful, affectionate tone.”

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