Harvard debate tourney was ‘really cool,’ say Uniondale students

Uniondale High School speech and debate team members sat and discussed strategy with coach Nina Saveth at the Harvard debate tournament in February. // Photo from the Uniondale School District website

By Ralph Boscia

Uniondale High School and Lawrence Road Middle School students who competed in the 49th annual Harvard Debate Tournament against schools from the U.S., Canada and the Dominican Republic were invited to speak at the March 7 Uniondale School District Board of Education meeting to describe their experiences at one of the most prestigious public speaking competitions in the country.

“I also see after going to Harvard where I need to improve as a coach, but really that the debate team is a unique set of students,” Uniondale High coach Nina Saveth said. “They are driven. They are intelligent. They are really motivated to be the best that they can be at these tournaments, and I hope that one day that we can set something up so we can show you a tournament.”

The teams traveled over to Cambridge, Mass., from Feb. 18 to 20 to take part in the event at Harvard University. The tournament included high school and middle school debate teams from across the United States and beyond. The weekend served as a learning experience for the teams as they traveled to Boston and competed against some of the best debate teams in the country.

“It was really nice to go and compete against other schools that aren’t just in our circuit, because, like my coach said, we typically only go against people from the Bronx, or Queens, or Brooklyn,” said Uniondale team Captain Savannah Hope, a junior. “I got to meet people from all over the country, and there were even schools from Canada and the Dominican Republic there, which I thought was really cool.”

Although some of the students did not advance as far as they wanted in the competition, they said they cherished the opportunity to compete at such an esteemed event. “It was difficult starting off against highly competitive teams and keeping track of our notes and information. Losing our first two rounds was a devastating setback, but after countless pep talks from my parents and coaches, my teammate and I persevered and won the next two rounds,” said Lawrence Road sixth-grader Alicia Kashart. “After being victorious, we were energized and ready to try again to succeed when we lost the last and final round and couldn’t advance to the finals. It was an upsetting setback, but when I realized how lucky I was to even be at Harvard, I cheered up.”

“I got to meet people from all over the country, and there were even schools from Canada and the Dominican Republic there, which I thought was really cool.”

Savannah Hope, Debate Team Captain

The Harvard National High School Invitational Forensics Tournament started in 1975 and is held every President’s Day weekend. The tournament pits students against one another in competitions such as Policy Debate, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Public Forum Debate and Student Congress. According to the tournament’s official website, the competition is regarded as “the largest and most prestigious high school speech and debate tournament in the country.”

This year marked the first time that Lawrence Road’s debate team attended the event in person.