Trying to get a response from a group of teenagers in some instances can be a challenge, but not when it comes to young debaters.
Hands flew up and polite interjections were thrown as excited J. L. Crowe students gathered for their last group lunch Thursday, in preparation for the Law Foundation Cup Debate Provincials in Langley this weekend.
Seventeen students from the Crowe, Rossland Secondary and Stanley Humphries have been selected to compete at the provincial level.
Contestants will debate both for and against their given topic – that restorative justice should play a major role in the Canadian Criminal Justice System – and will fly by the seat of their pants with a response to an impromptu question, for which they’ll have less than an hour to prepare both sides.
With help from Jesse Gelber of McEwan and Harrison, instructor Kay Medland and youth probation officer Diana Wilkes, the six Crowe students participating were given background information in recent weeks to form their crafted speeches, which are done in pairs.
But when it comes to responding to impromptu questions, the key is to remain confident and use what you know, according to Grade 10 competitor Isaac Meyer.
Impromptu questions are often general – contenders can expect topics like “honesty is the best policy” or “little white lies are important.”
Grade 9 student Jesse Bartsoff stays up to date on current affairs by reading articles in publications like National Geographic or Maclean’s Magazine, giving him general background to apply to his argument.
While most competitors at the table laughed at the idea of being nervous at the provincial level, Monica McPhee recalls when she first started.
“I’m much more outgoing now,” she said. “I did a lot of public speaking before but nothing as intense as this.”
Competitors are expected to present their arguments accurately with factual information to back up their points and persuade a crowd, without letting emotion seep into their speeches.
For debate coach Marilyn Lunde, the school’s club provides a niche for intellectual students looking to expand their research skills and apply what they learn.
“It’s such an important activity for kids to be able to listen to each other, to be more globally informed, to tweak that opportunity, to question, to counter it, and to be able to come up with a critique as to whatever has been said,” she said.
Lunde started coaching young debaters in 1984.
She spent 25 years working at Rossland Secondary School before becoming the teacher librarian at Crowe nearly three years ago.
“They’re just really fun to be with, they’re really a good group of kids.”
Lunde is pleased to see students working outwardly, rather than zoned into devices like cellphones.
“It’s getting away from ‘this,’” she said, pretending to text message on an invisible phone. “It’s a whole other task to be able to sit beside someone and have a good conversation.”
The provincial competition acts as a catalyst toward other opportunities. Those with top marks are selected to move onto higher-level challenges.
Nearly 180 competitors – novice, junior and senior – will be at this weekend’s competition held at Walnut Grove Secondary School.
For more information, visit bcdebate.org