Speech and Debate team host Parkway’s first online debate tournament

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Kathryn McAuliffe

Staying six feet apart, senior Laura Young collaborates with fellow teammates in order to run a smooth and efficient tournament. Young was part of the several students selected by Borgsmiller to go to the library and run the online tournament in-person. “While it made communication harder, it was really nice to be able to see my teammates, even from a distance,” Young said.

Switching from running around rooms, to managing Zooms, the debate team made history by hosting Eastern Missouri’s biggest debate tournament, Oct. 6-7. Led by head coach and debate teacher Cara Borgsmiller, members of the team worked together to organize the tournament.

Borgsmiller and the executive board began preparing for the tournament back in August. For Borgsmiller, it felt like she was going back to square one.

“It was like the first few years where I coached, where I didn’t know how to delegate work. I had to do a lot of work on my own,” Borgsmiller said.

To host an online tournament with around 400 competitors and more than 300 judges, the team utilized two main programs. Borgsmiller settled on NSDA Campus for Friday and Zoom for Saturday. The tournament required a lot of trial and error. 

“I found out that we could have done it all on Zoom, and it would have been a lot more efficient,” Borgsmiller said. “It is always so satisfying to finish hosting–virtual or not, successful or not. It’s like running a marathon. You put in so much time and work that just finishing the goal you set out for yourself feels tremendous.”

At a traditional in-person tournament, one would see competitors and workers running around, but this time around, the stress was digital.

“Usually, I’m always so impressed with my step recorder. If I didn’t get to 20,000 steps, then did I really host a debate tournament? This year, I didn’t even get to 10,000. I was just as exhausted though. Everything I was managing was mental,” Borgsmiller said.

Keeping track of and communicating with 300 judges was one of the biggest struggles for the team.

“Having to get a hold of a judge or competitor delays everything. Not being in physical spaces with the people I need to communicate with makes it extremely difficult. We were lucky that we were allowed to use the library,” Borgsmiller said.

[The virtual season is] sad and I’m trying not to think about it because it will make me even sadder. We don’t get to go to team dinner. We don’t get to stand around and hang out between rounds. We don’t get to have our team events.”

— Laura Young

Senior and executive board member Laura Young was one of the students selected to work in-person at the library. She was in charge of novice public forum, novice oratory and open humorous interpretation. 

“I ran around, on Zoom, checking virtual rooms and making sure all of the competitors and judges were there,” Young said. “Communication was a lot harder. Whether it was coordinating with judges, my team, or problem solving, it was more difficult to find people and talk out a little problem over Zoom.”

With this season being virtual, team members are finding it harder to form relationships.

“[The virtual season is] sad and I’m trying not to think about it because it will make me even sadder. We don’t get to go to team dinner. We don’t get to stand around and hang out between rounds. We don’t get to have our team events,” Young said.

The team has Zoom meetings weekly, and still attend tournaments, but the usual debate traditions have been missing.

“It’s incredibly disappointing. You can look at the makeup of our team and see that a third are seniors. And not just seniors, but four-year seniors who deserve their senior year. I’m grateful that we do get an online tournament,” Borgsmiller said.

Borgsmiller says that the team was lucky to be able to meet safely in the library one last time. The team took safety precautions using the district COVID-19 questionnaire, masks and social distancing. 

“These are people who I’ve gotten very close to over the past four years. At the end of our tournament, usually, we can commiserate together and talk about the tournament and they can go to dinner together. That bonding piece, where you get to meet like-minded people, feels really absent,” Borgsmiller said.

While some senior’s debate careers are ending, others are beginning. Sophomore Esha Francis competed in this tournament for the first time as a novice, with her partner, sophomore Allie Byergo. 

This was a challenge and they rose to it. I think it also shows all my team members that when you dedicate yourself to a cause, no matter how difficult, it is worth it to see it through.”

— Cara Borgsmiller

“I chose Public Forum because I could do it with a partner, and it just felt so interesting. I love talking about and debating about current events. It’s something that I’m very passionate about,” Francis said.

Francis and Byergo communicated through FaceTime and Google Docs.

“At one point, my computer broke. I had to speak through Allie’s phone into her computer. It modeled how a real round would go. Me and my partner caught on quite quickly and won two of our three rounds. It was a good memory because our problems were shared with our opponents and formed a sense of unity,” Francis said.

Like most debate tournaments, there were technical difficulties; however, this turned out to be a positive for Francis and Byergo.

“After 15 minutes, when no judge showed up, we decided that enough was enough. We were gonna get to know these lovely folks. So we asked them their names and then we started talking. We actually ended up playing “Among Us” for about 20 minutes,” Francis said. 

Borgsmiller is proud of her students who competed or ran the tournament, for rising to the virtual challenge.

“This was a challenge and they rose to it. I think it also shows all my team members that when you dedicate yourself to a cause, no matter how difficult, it is worth it to see it through. I am proud of what they accomplished but also of what was learned: hard work and dedication do pay off,” Borgsmiller said.