The Circle Voice

Groton Students Participate in Inter-School Debates

Julia Lin '22

Julia Lin '22

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On September 23rd, eight Groton students attended the annual Roxbury Latin parliamentary debate, four competing in the novice division and four in advanced. The Roxbury Latin debate was replete with interesting resolutions, tackling topics from Supreme Court nominations to safety screenings. Although the team did not place at Roxbury Latin, debate partners Brooks Anderson ’20 and Charles Wahba ’20 both agreed that the experience was fun, adding, “Mr. Gnozzio did a great job preparing us.”  

While Brooks and Charles are experienced debaters, the Debating Society has also welcomed an influx of new members this year. Seventeen lower schoolers came to the first meeting of the year, and more students expressed interest in going to the Roxbury Latin debate than the team had slots for. Michael Gnozzio, coach of the Debating Society, encourages returning students to try debate as well, saying “it is never too late to get started.” 

In addition to the Roxbury Latin debate in September, eight Grotonians attended the St. Sebastian’s debate on October 7th with four novice and four advanced debates.

“Overall, the debate went fairly well,” said participant and Debating Society President Julia Kendall ’19.  Erin Dollard ’20 and Rajit Khanna ’19 came in second place for the advanced division. Julia said she enjoyed the debate, “mainly because we found the topics to be much more engaging than in prior years. For instance, choices of debate ranged from the utility of NATO to whether parents should be able select for gender.”

In the future, Julia and fellow President Phoebe Shi ’19 are hoping to increase student participation in debate across all forms. 

The Debate Society implements a variety of ways for students to learn and hone debate techniques. Before every interscholastic tournament, coaches Dr. Reyes and Mr. Gnozzio meet with teams to observe a practice debate and make helpful critiques. New debaters are invited to come as well.

Furthermore, Debate Society also hosts in-house debates after sit-down. A long-standing Groton tradition, these debates are designed to prepare new debaters for tournaments and allow returning debaters to hone their skills, as well as helping audience members gauge if they’d be interested in joining debate.

However, post-sit-down debates will undergo considerable changes this year. In previous years, these debates were Oregon style, but they have since been changed to the Parliamentary format. Unlike the Oregon style, Parliamentary is modeled after the British parliamentary system (employing titles like Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition). Participants learn the topic of the debate shortly before the round begins, and questions are raised in the middle of constructive speeches. In Oregon style, the debate topic is known beforehand and instead of being able to ask questions during the speeches like is possible in parliamentary, there is a set time for cross-examination after the end of the speeches. Mr. Gnozzio has instituted this change because Parliamentary is the format used most often in tournaments.

Dr. Reyes is also continuing to host weekly meetings every Thursday, where beginners can learn the basics of Parliamentary debate and practice oratory skills.

“I enjoy the Debate Society meetings because they allow people new to debating to learn the basics and practice debating skills without the pressure of competing,” said Zoe Colloredo-Mansfeld ‘21, who has attended the meetings these past few weeks.

Mr. Gnozzio believes that the Debating Society had a successful season last year, with several Grotonians earning distinctions at a range of tournaments, particularly in the novice section. This year, he hopes to replicate and even trump their previous successes. One of his aspirations is for a student to achieve the coveted first place title in a World’s qualifying tournament. Few Grotonians ever achieve this distinction: the last Groton student to attend World’s was Stephen McCarthy ’06 in 2006. In addition, Mr. Gnozzio himself attended the tournament, traveling to England to participate in it.

He qualified in 2003 while he was President of Groton’s Debating Society. “It was a lot of fun, and it was a great opportunity to get to know debaters from around the globe,” Mr. Gnozzio said, “what I ultimately remember most is the time I spent outside of competition having spirited discussions with the Canadians, Israelis, and other US contestants that I got to know.”

Whether another Groton student can make it to the world championship, or not, ultimately the the main goal of the Debating Society is “to have fun, while also learning the fundamentals of public speaking and good argumentation,” explained Mr. Gnozzio. He believes that “if students come away from their debate experience feeling that more comfortable analyzing issues and speaking on their feet, that’s victory enough.”

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