Armed with trophies and confidence, the accomplished debate team prepares for future tournaments


Debate is typically considered a cutthroat competition comprised of impolite competitors and vicious arguments. Because it is an activity derived from arguing, debate is competitive and fierce in nature. Teams can be seen as unapproachable and intimidating, so debate and all aspects encompassing it can be viewed through a negative lens.

However, senior Hannah Richardson, second-year Novice debater, views FHC’s debate team as a welcoming environment composed of wonderful, inviting people.

“The team dynamic is amazing,” Hannah said. “It’s full of an interesting mix of people; some are outgoing, others are more reserved. But when we’re all [working] together everyone feels comfortable. We all find strength from each other, and we all encourage one another.”

What sets the team apart from the other unfriendly ones, in her opinion, is the kind and light-hearted aura of the team.

Some teams take a much more serious approach and often come across as intimidating or almost rude,” Hannah said. “I always try to make sure that [our] debate team meets members from other schools, and that we are opponents that others view as kind and respectful.”

Hannah started to integrate an inviting environment into the debate team six weeks ago when competitions started.

Immigration was selected as the national topic for policy debate, which Hannah believed to be a highly charged political topic. Before debates could begin, Hannah and other members of the team had to gather evidence and build their cases for such a heavy, real-world topic. On Mondays and Fridays, the team meets in order to research, get to know new members of the team, and prepare for each Wednesday competition, as part of the Grand Rapids Metro League.

This year, Hannah went affirmative for the debates, meaning she had to build a case in support of immigration. Months were spent learning the ins and outs of the topic, whether it be border control or immigrant violence. In addition to building up the affirmative case, she also had to prepare for counter-arguments from opposing teams.

Because Hannah spent months building her affirmative case, any nerves surrounding the first couple of tournaments were nowhere to be found.

“I never get nervous because we typically have a partner to debate with, and that support goes a long way,” said Hannah, whose partner is usually junior Meredith VanSkiver. “I [know] the stakes of debate are whatever I make them, and because I walk into tournaments hopeful and prepared, I feel confident and just happy to be there.”

Hannah’s cool and collected attitude contributes to the atmosphere of the team as a whole. In junior Akansha Das’s eyes, the light-hearted and friendly people who make up the team, including Hannah, are what cements her admiration for the debate team. Akansha is a member of the Open team, the advanced level of debate.

“Oh, I love the team,” Akansha said with a smile. “They’re really nice; you meet a lot of different types of people on the team and also during the week. Everybody is really friendly; we joke around a lot, and it’s really nice.”

While Hannah runs affirmative for the debates, Akansha is on the opposite side. While Akansha isn’t going against immigration itself, she is against the affirmative side’s plans for a solution.

“Since the topic is so sensitive, if you’re going negative, sometimes it can sound like you’re racist,” Akansha said. “You have very limited ground, so it’s tough. It’s definitely a really polarizing issue because of everything that’s been happening in politics.”

Akansha not only carefully prepared a negative case but an affirmative one, too. Sometimes in the tournaments, switching sides isn’t an uncommon practice. Each member of the team puts hours of research into compiling evidence for their main stance, but also the opposite stance, too– just in case they have to quickly switch at the drop of a hat.

While it may seem overwhelming or nerve-wracking to have to fill your brain with so much information about both sides of a heavy topic, Akansha is confident because of all of the evidence at her fingertips. For her, the difficult part is actually knowing which evidence to actually use.

“[It] kind of [is hard to prepare both sides], but you have all of the evidence at your hands,” Akansha said. “[We] have these giant files, so you have all the evidence but the tough part is finding what evidence fits the best. So, you have to familiarize yourself with the files and just have the knowledge.”

For the past six weeks, the debate team members have been showcasing their knowledge and preparations every Wednesday at the Metro League tournaments. Last Wednesday was the final weekday tournament, and Hannah looked back on the month-and-a-half of competitions with the close-knit team with pride.

“The last six weeks have been challenging, but full of growth and fun,” Hannah said. “We all came together and helped each other so that we could all be good at what we did. With each win, we remembered what worked, and after each loss, we took the judge’s comments and applied them to future debate rounds.”

Senior James Aidalla, a veteran debater, judged the debate rounds this year. Because he didn’t debate, he got to oversee the immense amount of progress from both the Novice and Open teams.

“It really makes me proud to see them come so far and make so much progress,” James said.

The team was highly successful and multiple members were awarded trophies for their hard work and dedication. At every tournament, points were given to each member for how well they spoke– not about the topic, but their public speaking skills in general. In addition to those points, awards were given based on the total number of wins and losses for each individual team.

Akansha and Hannah were each awarded trophies based on their speaking, and so did many other members of the team. Hannah thought that the tangible trophy really showcased the months of practice and preparations that went into each tournament.

“It was a great feeling [to get a trophy],” Hannah said, “and it was a physical reminder of how hard we all worked.

With the awards successfully wrapping up the weekly tournaments, the team is now preparing for the larger, out-of-town weekend tournaments. Those tournaments are the ones where stance switches could occur.

James will be transitioning from a judge to an active debater, where he will be taking a stance on both sides of the argument. Preparations for each side will quickly start; he harvests research into up to 100 pages of Google Docs and organizes the information into different cards. Arguments are read off from the different cards, and James rehearses defending all sides of the argument.

Because James is experienced and knowledgeable about all things debate, he is working hard to prepare both affirmative and negative; he knows exactly what must be done in order to be successful in the upcoming tournaments.

“For [affirmative], most [of the] work is first assembling the plan and then finding ways to answer different arguments about its viability or effects,” James said. “For [negative], most [of the] time is spent finding arguments [that] apply as many ways as possible to as many arguments as possible.”

James is hopeful that his, and the team’s, preparations will pay off in the weekend tournaments.

“I’m hoping that I can get to the weekend tournaments and use everything I have seen [so far] to hit the ground running,” James said.

From the start, James has been a key component to the debate team and hopes that his successes will continue. Last year, he earned a seventh place speaker award and a very highly ranked team award for the Open team.

His fondest memory and accomplishment, though, is from his very first competition. At the time, he was debating with FHC alumni Ryan Sutton and was feeling a significant amount of nerves for his first competition. Maneuvering his way through the rocky waters of something new, he made it out alive and saw that experience as a highlight in his debating career.

“I felt pretty bamboozled as to what I was supposed to be doing,” James said. “As I figured out my way through the round with [Ryan’s] guidance, I managed to not only survive but also make arguments that were varsity level off the cuff. That really stuck with me as something that made me want to debate more.”

Looking back on his very first debate competition to now, James has always felt a familial aspect of the team. With each member striving for greatness in each tournament, everyone is woven together by a common thread: greatness.

“The team is [mainly] driven by a sense of wanting to do better at something we all enjoy,” James said, “and get along and connect around. It feels kindred and familial in a sense.”

Because of their bond and individual greatness, the debate team has been highly successful in the last six weeks and hopes to continue its streak of victories. 

“I hope that everyone who wants to participate gets the chance,” Hannah said, “and I hope that the team members who put in the work and are passionate about debate come out of the tournaments feeling like all their work has paid off, and that they have learned or grown in some way.”