Making a Statement: Stone Bridge Debate

How would you feel about getting the chance to visit Harvard? The Stone Bridge Speech and Debate team has traveled to different tournaments, including some through different organizations, and even had the chance to attend the Harvard Invitational. 

The Stone Bridge Speech and Debate team has in season competitions monthly from September to February. Those who place highly in seasonal tournaments then get a chance to advance to “Super-Regionals” (second round) or “Metrofinals” (regionals) where members who qualify have the chance to go to Nationals. In recent years, the debate team has had to adapt and learn new skills to overcome the  pandemic.

“One of the biggest accomplishments for the team was shifting to competing virtually through NSDA’s video chat software, having to discover new ways to use technology to communicate with their partners during a competition when they were in different houses rather than sharing notes and able to converse freely,”  debate team sponsor, Jessica Nastasi, said. “We have many competitors who have placed highly in individual tournaments, from Public Forum, Policy, and Lincoln-Douglas format debates, and forensics ‘speech’.”

The Stone Bridge Debate team not only has gotten opportunities to advance to the next level at events, but has also received a chance to go to invitationals in years past, including one at Harvard.

I think the main thing that I’ve [learned] from debate academically is [how] to critically think about a variety of different political and recent topics.”

— Senior Ronit Sharma

“My favorite memory from being on the debate team was our trip to Harvard for the National Debate tournament,” said senior Jenny Wang. “We got to hang out and have a lot of fun together.”

At the Harvard Invitational, Stone Bridge had the chance to compete against a variety of different teams from all over the United States as well as debate teams from Canada. In each of the tournaments, the team usually competes in three debate categories: Policy, Public Forum, and Impromptu.

“Debate helped me build on [a] variety of skills such as communication, teamwork, and critical thinking,” senior Ronit Sharma said. “[These skills] are all main parts of debate that you need to have a good grasp on [so that you] have a good shot [at] doing good at a competition.”

The team not only competes in the Virginia High School League (VHSL), but they also participate in tournaments in the Washington-Arlington Catholic Forensic League (WACFL). As part of the WACFL, the team participates in five preliminary tournaments which determine if a member qualifies for Metrofinals later in the year. They also participate in two VHSL Debate tournaments which are in March and April. 

“With the Stone Bridge Debate team, I [had the opportunity to go to] all the Regional WACFL competitions as well as Nationals at Harvard,” Wang said.

The debate team has 40 members and meets every Wednesday after school from 4:05-5:00 p.m. in room 604 if anyone is interested in learning about speech or debate. Ms. Nastasi, who is an English teacher at Stone Bridge, has been the sponsor of the program since the 2020-2021 school year.

“Our meetings [are] a balance of being very productive and collaborative as we [share] ideas but also hav[e] fun,” said Wang. 

Many members joined because they had interests in some of the debate topics. Students part of the team now feel like they have learned a variety of useful skills for later in their life. Some of these include research, reasoning, and presenting skills.

“I joined because I was interested in current events and foreign policy and it seemed fun,” said co-president Prannav Shanker. “[I was] very happy [when I placed 4th at the WACFL competition] because it was validation for the work [I] put in.”

Sharma joined the Debate team since he was interested in learning more about common political topics. He also thought the team would be something enjoyable to take part in during his free time. Through competing on the team, Sharma has improved in different ways academically. 

“I think the main thing that I’ve [learned] from debate academically is [how] to critically think about a variety of different political and recent topics,” said Sharma. “I think that Debate is really interesting [since] all the topics you are debating are recent and can help with a variety of different classes.”

Due to COVID, debate tournaments are now online for the WACFL. However, in the spring, the VHSL is planning on making their events in person. 

“Last year we did not reach the higher levels of competition, but I am hopeful that this year we can compete in Metrofinals and VHSL upper divisions,” Ms. Nastasi said.