Hill debates take the national competition stage… virtually?


The debate team continues to compete. Photo By Moniyah Pearson-Henderson ’23

As with almost all co-curricular activities on campus, the Hill Speech and Debate team’s season is looking different.  Their once in-person competitions now take place over virtual meeting rooms on the website Tabroom.com.  Hosted by the National Speech and Debate Association, this website manages and provides access to debate tournaments worldwide.   In 2020, however, it now acts as a means of holding competitions, as it is where student debaters access their virtual competitions.  Aside from judges having to consider the impact technical difficulties may have on debate participants, competition rules are the same as those of years prior. To many on the team, competing virtually does not take away from the art of debate.

“If we keep those core principles of empowering students to interact and to be able to express themselves, we find that a lot of that debate can still happen online,” said Head Debate Coach Nick Malinak. 

In fact, virtual debate has presented some new opportunities to Hill debaters. The team can now participate in usually far-away tournaments. In the past two weeks, the team debated in Arizona and Colorado-based competitions.

Like last year, student debaters meet every weekday as an afternoon activity.  Day-to-day activities can range from brainstorming arguments, editing cases, and even playing croquet on the Quad.

“We separate practice into three different ideas: one is actual practice, so doing drills and debating, the second part is brainstorming arguments and discussing with each other to see what works. And then, the last part is evidence production,” said two-year member Corbin Cartagine ’23.

The most important aspect of the team at each practice, with or without COVID-19, is to create a close-knit environment for its members.

“I feel like this year the team is much more close and tight-knit,” said Stefanie Li ’23, a member of the debate team for two years.

Malinak furthered, saying, “what we want to do is create that same team environment because just like so many of our sports, it’s a team activity.”

Malinak, this year’s new Head Debate Coach, is one of the team’s major changes.  Having participated in his high school’s debate program, Malinak has long roots connecting him to the world of speech and debate.  Only a few years after graduating high school, he found himself coaching a JV debate team in his hometown, experiencing the role of a coach for the first time.  In the years since, Maliank has moved throughout towns and has been the head of multiple debate teams, overseeing the development in each of his old schools’ debate programs.  After finishing his Master’s degree, he found the job listing at Hill.  

“Speech and debate is like a family.  We spend all of this time after school and on weekends with them, helping them figure out college- all of these things that we do here at Hill.  This was the right fit,” said Malinak.

He hopes to continue to grow Hill’s debate program, expanding to more students interested in current events, public speaking, drama, or wherever their interests may lie. 

“We’re finding students who are interested and helping to enable and support them in their other interests,” said Malinak.  “We have over 500 students and every one of them is unique and has their own interest. To bring people under one umbrella and say this is our competitive team for academics, the arts, science, or whatever people’s individual interests are is what speech and debate is about.”