When Gary Xia and the U-Hill debaters walked into St. Georges School in December of last year for their second debate tournament of the season, they were taken aback by the posh interior of the school. Everyone was served cupcakes and juice and their opponents were decked out in spiffy matching team uniforms. It was an intimidating sight.
The U-Hill debate team was still relatively new at the school and had only existed for two years. They'd had only one chance to get their feet wet and it hadn't been pretty. In November, the U-Hill squad headed across the road to UBC to compete in the UBC Debate Society High School Competition along with 160 other top debaters from schools from across Metro Vancouver. That day they went toe-to-toe with West Point Grey, Fraser Heights, St. Georges, Crofton House and Little Flower Academy. After hours of argument and counter argument the team left the tournament without placing.
The team upped its ante and prepared for their next battle at St. Georges. They quickly entered into intensive training, prepping during lunches and after school with their new coach, UBC student Sarah Gordon, a self-described "scenster". Gordon along with sponsor teacher John Yetman were a huge support to the team and along with team members. Over the coming weeks, the team drilled with their five debate team leaders. Harvey Zhang, Peter Xu and Chris Yonemitsu worked with the junior teams while Xia and Vlad Shapiro prepared with the senior team.
Everyone understood that preperation for competition was just as important as the debate-day performance.
"Debate is a psychological sport. On-the-spot performance can vary greatly due to so many factors," says Xia. "Team dynamics and support is a huge part of moving towards a successful debate season. Having a supportive team, an awesome coach, and a dedicated sponsor teacher makes all the difference in the world."
With this in mind, the team steeled themselves against the intimidating prospect of facing off against teams with more resources and experience. They were definitely the underdogs, but they wouldn't be going quietly into the night.
Tournaments typically go three to four rounds. Teams get a topic to prepare a week before the tournament and then receive a couple topics the day of the event, in which case they have only 15 - 30 minutes to prepare. Once the debate kicks off, teams are assigned either the opposition or proposition side. For the St. Georges tournament the question of the day surrounded Canada's descision to withdraw from carbon emissions agreements linked to the Kyoto protocol. After a number of admirable showings, the U-Hill team graduated to the finals.
"When it was announced that we were going into the finals against a St. George's team, it seemed unreal," says Xia. "We rushed to prep, and went into the round thinking that we would lose. But somehow, my partner and I complemented each other's arguments really well and the judges gave us the round. The whole round seemed like a dream to me, as if I were living it vicariously in a third-person view."
The main hall was jammed with 130 spectators including other debate students, teachers and parents. After a hard fought debate, Xia and his teammate stood victorious. He says the victory put U-Hill on the map as a debate school and left the whole team on cloud nine for the next week.
Their strong showings at St Georges wasn't the only time the team shined. This year, U-Hill's junior team (composed of Rocio Hollman and Claire Sarson) took first place at the Lower Mainland West Regional Debate Tournament at St. John's School in February. Then at the University of Victoria High School Invitational one senior team placed second while another senior team composed of Saman Arfaie and Sabrina He placed third. The U-Hill junior team again took first place. In March 2 at the 2012 Law Foundation Cup at Mulgrave School junior speaker Hollman placed first in the speaking competition and advanced to the nationals.
Everyone on the team says they are excited and primed to finish the season strong. They've got two tournaments left, one at Glenlyon Norfolk School in Victoria - a mock trial and then the Worlds Schools Tournament at West Point Grey. Meanwhile Hollman will be heading to Calgary in late April for the Junior National Speech Championships.