Blair National Circuit Debate Team ranks third in Tournament of Champions

Blair’s National Circuit Debate Team competes all year for a chance to debate in the Tournament of Champions (TOC). But the debaters never thought they would be debating the most important competition of the year over a screen, as this year’s TOC was held virtually due to the covid-19 pandemic. The new platform did not impair the Blazers’ performance, however. 

Blair sent seven students to the TOC in April, where they ranked third out of over 200 schools. Three student pairs qualified for the Public Forum event, which is a policy-focused style of debate consisting of two-person teams, and one student, senior Peter Zhang, qualified for the Lincoln-Douglas event, which is a philosophy-based style of debate consisting of one-person teams. 

Courtesy of Alex Jiang
DEBATE COMPETITION Earlier this year, Blair's national circuit debate team competes at the WACFL tournament in Arlington.

The national team is a small subset of the whole Blair debate team, composed of students who wish to travel and compete around the country. “The school team mainly competes in the county tournament, and the county tournament is only open to the schools in MCPS,” Blair junior and national team co-captain Alex Jiang says. “On the national circuit, the tournaments that we compete at consist of different debaters from all around the country and even… Canada.”

The debaters compete all year in order to qualify for TOC. “TOC is basically a culmination of a year's worth of debate, so throughout the whole year—on the national circuit—you go to all these tournaments,” the other national co-captain Iris Gupta, also a junior, says. “For example, at the Georgetown tournament, if you make it all the way to finals, you get something that's called a bid. And it's different for each tournament,” she says. Teams need two bids to earn a spot at the TOC, among several other potential ways to qualify.

Because of the covid-19 pandemic, organizers were forced to pivot and hold TOC virtually this year. “The… online tournament works… like a fake school where you can go to different rooms,” Jiang says. “Each room that you see on the screen, you can click on, and it’ll bring you to a Zoom call… All of the debaters and the judge and spectators who are interested in watching would go to that room, and then we would just debate over Zoom.” 

Blair debaters had to go through many intense rounds of competition to earn their third-place ranking. “It is a really stressful experience because in order to qualify for elimination rounds, there's seven preliminary rounds, and in order to make the elimination rounds, you have to win five out of the seven” Jiang says. “My partner and I won our first round, but we lost our second, so we could only lose one more round after…we were just really scared that we would [be matched against] a really good team and lose to them.”

To keep themselves sharp for each round, Jiang and his partner, junior Eli Qian, facetimed between rounds to prepare. “Outside of the round, we were constantly updating our cases, updating our blocks, which are responses to different cases. And we kept doing more research to make ourselves better for the next round,” Jiang says. 

Despite these rigorous requirements and unusual circumstances, the Blazers pulled through. Jiang and Qian even secured a spot in next year’s competition by making it to the octofinals of this year’s TOC. “That was a really big deal for us,” Gupta says, “but as a whole school, Blair was ranked third out of all the schools that were competing because the four teams that we sent to the TOC overall performed really well.”

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