Grade 11 student Sydney Gomez has spent the last six weeks researching northern subjects in preparation for a national debate seminar held in Hay River

Grade 11 student Sydney Gomez has spent the last six weeks researching northern subjects in preparation for a national debate seminar held in Hay River

From timekeeper to national debater

RSS student flying to N.W.T. to compete

Looking back at her childhood, Rossland’s Sydney Gomez is not surprised she’s argued her way into her school’s debate team.

The 16-year-old, now off to compete at the Canadian Speech and Debate Federation National Seminar, really did just fall into the competitive after-school club.

“No, I was never shy, my parents would say, ‘You were definitely a person to get your opinion across,’” said Gomez, when the Times caught up with her Tuesday.

“I first got into it because I liked being right. My parents are really glad I’m doing it. However, when we’re in an argument, they may think it’s not a good thing.”

After competing at the junior level in a provincial competition last year, Gomez tied for third place, earning a spot in the senior division at this weekend’s event in Hay River, N.W.T.

The national seminar gives competitors a chance to debate given topics – Arctic sovereignty, cultural preservation in the north and resource development versus the environment – but at the same time it’s an opportunity for attendees to learn from special guests.

The Grade 11 Rossland Secondary School student will talk with members of the law institute from McGill University, which is a major bonus for someone who plans to complete an internship with a law firm over the summer.

“I’m there to learn as much as I can and absorb what the more experienced debaters are doing, because they’re really amazing to watch,” said Gomez, who competed at the senior level last weekend during a provincial competition held in Langley.

“I didn’t do as well as I expected to do at provincials,” she said, noting her 42nd placement. “But it’s a new experience for sure. The kind of knowledge some of the seniors have of what’s going on in the world is beyond me.”

Over the course of six weeks, Gomez researched northern topics with debate coach Marilyn Lunde, who also is the instructor librarian at Crowe.

“There are good things to say about those who come in small packages,” said Lunde. “She is a thinker and a sifter. And facing her as a debater, one would think she is very unassuming, however, it is what is inside that makes her shine and you don’t want to get in an argument with her.”

While Gomez has always excelled in academics, she said math was by far her strength before debating gave her the skills to tackle English essays and comprehend social studies, especially politics.

“It’s made me more intellectual in the way I look at different things,” she said, always exploring both sides of a story and keeping an open mind in general. “It’s definitely helped with confidence and with my speaking ability in front of crowds or when I have to speak on the spot.”

With more junior debaters at RSS these days, Gomez has acted as a mentor to younger students, which she said has been rewarding.

She recalls when she broke into debating – she was asked to fill in for a debater while acting as a Grade 8 timekeeper at a provincial event.

She earned last place that year but by Grade 9, Gomez traveled to Halifax to attend the Junior National Debate Seminar.

Before catching her plane today, Gomez will be busy packing her woollies for her trip up north, where the temperature is expected to be around -38 C. She will also need her sleeping bag for her stay because she will be sleeping at a school gymnasium with other competitors.

The challenge is welcomed with open arms for a girl who is in no way one-dimensional, said Lunde.

“She is a cross-country skier, she is a soccer player and she debates,” she said. “I’m proud of her accomplishments in all areas. She has amazing support from her family and she will be successful at whatever she undertakes.