West High’s Speech and Debate Team

Adelaide Parker

The 2021-2022 school year has been a successful one for many of West’s student activities, and its debate team is no exception. In March of 2022, the team competed at Utah’s 2022 State tournament and won, taking home the state’s debate championship for the fourth year in a row.

Students on West’s debate team compete in a variety of different events, ranging from multi-hour debates over ethics and government policy to individual speeches about current affairs. These events often relate to high-level legislative and administrative decisions, motivating students to not only improve their speaking and argumentation skills, but also learn more about areas such as politics, ethics, and economics.

Team member Olivia Wu cites this learning as her favorite part of debate: “[I enjoy how] in my event, LD, we get a new resolution every two months, which requires us to do a lot of research on topics we don’t know much about.” Cash Mendenhall, the team’s Extemporaneous Speaking captain, is similarly grateful for his time competing because of how it “improved [his] public speaking skills and ability to communicate ideas about foreign affairs relatably.”

In addition to its educational benefits, many team members enjoy the social side of debate.

“I really enjoy the debate community and the critical thinking skills and knowledge I have gained from competing,” said Anika Rao, another team member.

Both academically and socially, this past season has been different from the typical year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the 2021-2022 debate season and the entire season prior took place online.

“This season was rough for the same reason the season was rough last year,” said Ishan Sharma, the team’s Policy Debate captain. Like Anika, Ishan cites social interaction as his favorite part of competition: “My favorite part of debate is meeting other people [and] having intellectual discussions with them. Online, you don’t get to meet the debaters, we just debate them and then both of us log off the meeting and wait for the next round. This has made it a lot more taxing on mental health.”

Although it has been challenging, the transition to online debate has also helped the team succeed on a larger scale. Its virtual format allows debaters to attend competitions hosted across the country, giving them the opportunity to participate in tournaments that were often too expensive to travel to in person.

“Online debate means that we can compete at national tournaments that we would’ve historically not been able to. Getting to compete at some of the biggest tournaments in the country […] makes it a lot easier for us to get better because there’s just so much more to learn,” said Ishan.

Following nearly two years of virtual competitions, West’s debate team returned to in person competition with their Region tournament. After taking first at Region, the team went on to win State as well, cementing themselves as Utah’s 6A debate champions.

“State was awesome!” said Cash. [It was] good to connect with our team, and be surrounded by that energy for a day. [It] was exhilarating in the best way.”

Although West’s debate team has been very successful this season, many members still have reservations about the team’s future:

“Competing for West has left me with some mixed feelings,” said Ishan. On one hand, we are a big school with a pretty big debate program if we were to compare [ourselves] to other schools in Utah. On the other hand, we have very little funding and resources. When I tell my friends that we as competitors have to find judges or even about the historical lack of strong coaching for each event, they are shocked. The culture at West has grown through this process, but if we really want to assert ourselves as one of the best debate schools in the country, we really need the financial support from the district and the school to get there.”

With continued student enthusiasm and the proper support, West’s debate team can continue to succeed. If you are interested in joining the team or want to learn more, contact Dr. Raymond in room T115 or send an email to [email protected].

“The debate program at West helps individuals develop crucial analytical skills and it also looks fantastic on college applications,” says Ishan. I would really recommend debate to anyone who might be interested.”