After little more than a year of existence, the Byng Debate team is already turning out national level debaters.
This year, Una Flego, a Grade 9 Byng Arts student placed so high in the local and provincial debating matches that she earned a coveted spot in this year's nationals.
Flego started debate less than a year ago when 10 Grade 9s and 2 Grade 8s were invited to join the brand new club by Byng teacher Amy Hughes and debate coach Daphne Gray-Grant. The small team started preparing in earnest by prepping their minds to argue both sides of any given issue.
Flego says that while the cross examination questions were initially "scary" she found matches where there was a lot of passion very interesting to watch.
"You can literally feel yourself being persuaded into what they are saying. You then find yourself being persuaded side to side as each speaker talks," she says. "It is just really exciting."
Flego says a good debater needs to be able to think quickly, be able to speak off the top of their head and maintain good eye-contact with the audience throughout the talk.
Hughes agrees with this assessment, but adds there is a lot more that makes Flego and many of the Byng debaters unique.
"It speaks to how they are such good thinkers. It shows how well read these students are. You can't do it unless you have a critical mind," Hughes adds.
It was with these tips that Flego took with her to Victoria in February where the provincial debating championship was being held at a local private school. In addition to being nervous, Flego was also sick and struggling with a fever that day.
Despite these encumbrances, she forged ahead and was tasked during one of her debates to argue that prisoners in jail should have their right to vote revoked. When all the debates were done, Flego headed to a nearby hotel for the closing banquet and the announcement of the winners.
She says she didn't expect to win a spot at the national debate table after competing against hundreds of more seasoned debaters.
"It is so strange because I was talking with a friend of mine before on the phone. Debate season was over and while it was fun, it was also a bit of a relief not to worry about it," she says. "I didn't think I would place at all, I didn't expect it and when they first called my name, I was in a state of shock. I had to be directed to the front."
Flego will head off to the nationals in Ontario this May. But according to Hughes, she has already benefited significantly as a student from the club.
"If they stick with it, they will be amazing," says Hughes. "Una lives in her quiet zone. They are quieter kids. Debate helps with writing, thinking and even confidence."