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Five days after the in-person National Association for Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) Championship Tournament began, a winner has finally been crowned over Zoom.
In an intense final round of debate, the Port of Los Angeles High School beat out Minnesota’s St. Paul Central High School in a 4-1 decision Wednesday night.
Los Angeles debater Delmy Lopez said the “pure happiness” of her victory was still sinking in.
“It’s a surreal experience,” Lopez said. “It still hasn’t hit me. I think later on, it will hit me that I won the tournament with my partner…and all my work had paid off.”
Even before the final round, this Port of L.A. team was making history as the first from their school to qualify for the tournament.
Jun Kwon, who also debated for Port of L.A., said there is a lot of significance in “paving the way for the potential” his team has in future Urban Debate competitions.
While Port of L.A. is (metaphorically) walking away with the trophy, St. Paul Central is not leaving the tournament empty-handed. Before the winner was announced, Rhonda Haynes, the NAUDL executive director, said that, for the first time in tournament history, each finalist will receive a $5,000 scholarship, courtesy of Boies Schiller Flexner law firm, a NAUDL sponsor.
The debaters were visibly shocked when the figure was announced, as they each knew how much of a difference it will make for their finances over the summer and in their first semester in college.
“That money really stretches far,” St. Paul Central debater Maren Lien said.
For the first time ever, NAUDL hosted a hybrid open-policy debate tournament. Most of the tournament was in-person, after four years of online debate. Thirty-eight teams from 19 different Urban Debate leagues gathered at Southern Methodist University in Dallas from March 31 to April 2.
In each round, students switched between arguing the affirmative and negative sides of the resolution NAUDL chose for the year. For the 2022-2023 season, teams debated whether the U.S. should substantially increase its security cooperation with NATO in areas including artificial intelligence, biotechnology and cybersecurity.
But just as the semifinals began Sunday, the weather in Texas took a turn. With tornado watches implemented across the South and Midwest, teams scrambled to get home as many flights out of Dallas were canceled. To ensure every team got home in a safe and timely manner, NAUDL decided to push back the final round and host it over Zoom.
After finishing in the semifinals last year, the St. Paul Central team was not expecting to go very far in the competition.
“I did not go into this weekend expecting to have as much success as we did,” Lien said.
Once they went past where they thought they would finish, St. Paul Central’s Cayden Mayer said they reached a “fun point.”
“Losing in the finals as your last debate is pretty dang swag because you’re still in the finals,” Mayer added.
As seniors, this was also the final debate for Mayer and Lien, who have been partners for three years.
Sara Sanchez, director of programs and communications at NAUDL, said not much changed for the online debate. NAUDL recruited five “rock star” alumni and former league officials to judge the final round.
She added that NAUDL has never delayed the final round before and that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization did not have the capacity to host a virtual final.
A final match on Zoom was not ideal, but it’s nothing these resilient debaters couldn’t handle. After all, much of these debaters’ high school careers have been virtual.
“The fact it is online is not optimal for the presentation or performance aspect of debate, but I have spent more than a year doing online debate during COVID, so I am not unfamiliar with the landscape,” Lien said.
While the two teams battled it out over Zoom, NAUDL broadcasted the debate live on YouTube. The chat of the live stream was popping off the entire time, with spectators and debaters from other teams hyping up the finalists and analyzing their argument strategies.
Sanchez said it was great to see over 100 people interacting during the round and “cheering on their friends” from Los Angeles and Minnesota.
Kwon said the enduring support from friends, family and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Debate League helped pull out the win.
“We were kind of overthinking it, but the support that we had was unconditional from everyone around us, [and] I think gave us the final push to keep us motivated to win the last round,” he said.
The extra days before the final gave both teams more time to prepare. But more time for preparation means more time to stress about the debate.
“Having [the finals] delayed was very beneficial to us, but also the stress ate me up,” Lopez said.
Lopez and Kwon are only juniors and plan to keep this winning streak going into next season as they eye a spot in the Tournament of Champions.
While winning is definitely a great feat, both teams agree that their love of competition and the Urban Debate community is paramount.
“We gave it our all, and they are great debaters,” Mayer said. “There is no one I’d rather lose in the finals to.”
Lopez said competing against the other team helped refine her arguments.
“They cemented and refined some of our arguments, and they were good debaters,” she said. “I think we can all get better and refine our skills in the future.”
This tournament created a community and a larger sense of family and organization compared to some other national circuit competitions, Kwon added.
“The competition was a lot more wholesome,” he said.
Urban Debate Tournament Ends With Historic Final Round, Scholarship Money
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