There is no debate about it. North Battleford is a great place to hold a provincial debating championship.
That was the sentiment expressed by both organizers and participants at the annual E.C. Leslie Provincial Debate Championships held at the North Battleford Comprehensive High School on Saturday.
It is the culmination of the high school debating season, which sees students participate in several events throughout the year around Saskatchewan.
This is not the first time North Battleford hosted the provincial championships, which are organized by the Saskatchewan Elocution and Debate Association.
Organizers pointed to strong participation by people within the local community as a reason why they keep coming back.
“They’re welcoming and we have a tremendous judging pool of volunteers in North Battleford,” said Wendy James, president of the Saskatchewan Elocution and Debate Association.
At other venues, they usually have to bring in a number of judges from out of town. “That isn’t true here and this is the only place that it isn’t true,” James said.
This year’s finals attracted 120 debaters and 90 judges from communities all over Saskatchewan. Debaters came from Grades 5 through 12 across the province. The host sent 10 participants.
There are four levels: beginner, which is Grades 5-6, intermediate, which is Grade 7-8, novice, which is for high school students in their first year of debate, and the open category, which is for high school students
The competitions featured teams of two debaters each, each of whom took part in four debates.
The first two were debates on the topic of whether to abolish the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution. These were ones where the debaters could prepare in advance.
The afternoon session saw two “impromptu” debates. The debates were on human rights issues but the specific resolution wording was not revealed until half an hour before the debate. That meant some frantic last-minute preparations by debaters during the noon hour.
For the participants, it is not enough to simply get up at the front of the room and speak. A lot of hard work goes into getting ready for the debates.
“Students spend quite a bit of time preparing for the topics, because they know they’re going to have to be able to think on their feet,” said James.
The judges are also looking not only at how well they speak, but “how well do they build an argument and how well do they attack an opponent’s argument,” said James.
Speakers also are posed questions by their opponents during the debate.
While the event was designed to crown a provincial champion, the students involved gained some valuable life skills regardless of whether they won or lost.
Participants such as the team of Mueez Rafiquie and Nathan Groat from Walter Murray Collegiate could point to some valuable skills they gained from debating.
When getting involved in debating, Rafiquie said, “I was really scared of talking in front of large groups of people.”
Debating helped him in several ways, he said.
“It gave me the confidence to be able to speak in front of as many people as I want to … I wouldn’t be flustered now if I were to speak in front of a crowd of a thousand people now.”
He added, “It gave me so much knowledge about everything that goes on around me that I can use in my everyday life. The information I have now is something I would not have had if I didn’t do debate.”
Groat said debate has been helpful in helping “develop self confidence” and “speaking in front of the public.” But it has also helped him formulate ideas and in providing confidence in speaking “that is going to help me not just in high school but throughout the rest of my life. And that is an incredibly important thing for me.”
As for North Battleford, Rafiquie said he was impressed by the local support for the event.
“Even in Saskatoon we run into problems with judging and having the right amount of judges and volunteers for things. So the fact that the people of North Battleford are willing to support the debate community so much is something we all appreciate.”
Groat agreed, adding he was happy to see debates rotate among the various regions of the province.
“I think it’s really awesome that we can spread the benefit of debate to all different corners of the province, and that’s awesome that we are able to meet in North Battleford for this year.”
Both Rafiquie and Groat ended up in the final debate round against Chan Min Roh and Josie Harrison from Luther College, who won the final debate and the Schumiatcher Award.
They and other teams will represent the province at the Senior National Debate Championships in Halifax, N.S. April 11-14.
As well, the Spirit of Debate award was presented to a student who demonstrated “character, leadership and integrity.” The recipient from North Battleford is Ishita Mann for “her enthusiasm for debate and for being a positive role model to her peers.”