Debate Team returns, wins big in Los Angeles


Courtesy of Frank Irizarry

Suffolk’s Debate Team poses with their awards after a recent tournament at California State University Northridge in Los Angeles.

The newly reestablished Suffolk University Debate Team had a strong showing at the California State University Northridge debate in Los Angeles from Nov. 4-6, with three of its members winning speaker awards and their pairings placing second, third and fourth overall. 

The debate team competes in two-person policy debate. Each semester, a policy topic is proposed by the league they compete in. In a tournament, the teams must debate both in favor and against the topic. 

The topic they debated at this tournament was “Resolved: The United States should vest legal rights and/or duties in one or more of the following: Artificial intelligence, nature, nonhuman animal species.”

Suffolk attended the debate with three two-person teams. They made up three of the six teams present at the tournament. 

Team seedings are determined by the number of wins a team has in the preliminaries. In the case of a tie, the sum of each member’s speaker points through six preliminary debates determines the seeds. After the preliminaries, each Suffolk pairing held the top three seeds of the tournament. 

Suffolk’s top scoring team, consisting of sophomore Cara Wong and senior Sophia Trinh, lost in the semifinals to the fourth seeded Arizona State and California State Fullerton hybrid team. 

Since Suffolk had both the two and the three seed in the tournament, the second seeded team of juniors William Woodring, The Suffolk Journal News Editor, and Stephen Merrick, staff writer, automatically advanced to the finals. They lost to the same hybrid team, earning runners-up for the tournament.

In addition to the team success, they also racked up individual accolades. Trinh won the speaker award for the tournament’s top speaker, while Wong and Merrick won the second and fifth place speaker awards, respectively. With the title of top speaker, Trinh also earned a $500 award. 

“For me, I’m impressed with myself because walking into this we felt unprepared, so it was reassuring,” Wong said, commenting on her award. “I went into this thinking ‘I have no idea what’s going on,’ so I feel that it was a nice boost to my own confidence and made me feel secure in what I’m doing. It made me proud of me and my partner.”

For most of the team, it was their first competitive debate. Public relations Professor and Debate Team Coach Frank Irizarry praised the team for their performance.

“All three of our teams did well. They all went 4-2 in their preliminary debates, which is pretty good for a first tournament,” Irizarry said. “Then they did well in terms of their speaker awards. It was a really good first showing.”

Before coming to Suffolk, Irizarry had spent 16 years in debate coaching at institutions including Northern Illinois University, Syracuse University, University of Florida and Pace University. 

“I feel like I got a lot out of [the experience],” Wong said. “I did mock trial in high school, so I kind of missed doing that, and going back and doing this I was like, ‘It’s pretty similar and it’s pretty fun,’ and I feel like I got a lot out of it just educationally, speaking skills, critical thinking, stuff like that.” 

The team will get some rest as they gear up for five debates next semester. Their next debate will be in January at the U.S. Naval Academy. Wong looks forward to refining and improving her debate skills.

“Debate-wise, if you watch the varsity kids, they talk a mile a minute. They talk so fast, and their skills and their thinking is incredible, so that’s the goal for sure,” Wong said.

The Suffolk debate team competes in the novice division of the Cross Examination Debate Association.

Suffolk will be hosting a debate next semester on Super Bowl weekend. The last time Suffolk had a two-person policy debate team was in 1991, and the last time Suffolk hosted a debate, Irizarry was the top speaker as a junior at Marist College.

Irizarry mentioned that the team is always accepting new members.

“If you’re interested, we will train you, we will get you ready, we will travel you. It does not require you to have any experience with debate,” Irizarry said.

Wong spoke of the skills she’s gained already through the team.

“I’d say [being on the debate team] has made me a better speaker,” Wong said. “Both public speaking and in general. It also gave me the opportunity to think on my feet more and be more confident in what I’m saying.”