Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Suffolk Debate brings national recognition back to Boston

Suffolk University Debate Team poses with their awards after the national conference in Morgantown, West Virginia. Courtesy of Juliette Salah.

After returning to campus from a 32-year hiatus, Suffolk University’s Debate team made history by securing a Junior Varsity national title.

Suffolk Debate dates back to the 1960s, with the last team dating back to 1991. The team returned to campus last year with the help of the team’s coach and advisor, Frank Irizarry, and Suffolk President Marisa Kelly.

The year of intense competition all came together in Morgantown, West Virginia, where senior William Woodring, senior editor-at-large of The Suffolk Journal, and freshman Juliette Salah competed against 16 of the top JV teams in the nation. Junior Cara Wong and freshman Juliette Ludka competed in the novice division, where they secured a ninth-place finish.

The team secured titles consistently despite the current program being young. JV National title holders Woodring and Salah sported a 16-1 record across their regional and national competitions for the 2023-2024 season.

“Winning like this was particularly meaningful because this is only our second year competing,” said Woodring. “Watching the team grow and learn since our first tournament last year was remarkable, and I’m so happy to top off the past two years with a championship.”

Across the board, the team found success and national recognition early. Salah just began her time with the team in the fall after a career in policy debate in high school, and quickly secured her title as Top JV Speaker at the national collegiate level. Woodring also solidified his impact on the team over his two years of involvement, winning Suffolk the Novice Regional championship last year. Wong was awarded third best novice speaker at the Novice National Champions and Ludka was awarded seventh best speaker nationwide.

Both debating duos were up against some of the toughest competition in the nation.

“Nationals was intense because we went against a lot of teams that we had never faced before, so we had never debated the policies they were proposing before. While it was difficult, it was also quite interesting and enjoyable to do something different,” said Wong.

Debate tends to be a time-consuming affair according to Irizarry. The team prepares by doing intensive research on the subject matter they will be debating, from last year’s topic of environmental legislation to this year’s of the U.S. and their policies regarding nuclear forces.

The topics and process are part of what makes debate so popular among certain majors at Suffolk, said Irizarry.

“Our topics are always either a U.S. Foreign Policy topic, a U.S. Domestic Policy topic or a Legal topic. It’s part of the reason we are such an attractive activity to politics, government, law, communication, philosophy and economics majors,” said Irizarry.

The team spends much of their season understanding all angles of an argument and focusing on the chosen topic for the season. The team is expected to argue all sides of a topic during competition, making it important for the group to prepare for their tournaments thoroughly.

“Policy debate is a research-intensive activity, so we spend a lot of time researching, structuring and writing our arguments,” said Irizarry.

The team also frequently does speed drills. All of the speeches are timed, requiring a good amount of practice to go into the team member’s ability to speak quickly and fit as many details in an argument as possible.

“For example, you may, in your first speech, have nine minutes to read 22 pages. Basically, you want to read as much as possible to give the other team a lot to answer to make for a more intense and interesting debate. It takes a lot of practice, but it is a crucial part of policy debate,” said Wong.

Wong has been with the team since her sophomore year and has seen how impactful a program like speech and debate can be on campus.

“My sophomore year, I was looking for something to join that made me feel like I was a part of something and not just a background member in a huge club or association on campus. I definitely found that in joining the debate team, as it requires teamwork and compromise in a competitive environment. The whole activity was a learning experience for everyone, which brings people together in a way that not a lot of clubs at Suffolk do,” said Wong.

With debate at Suffolk closing out its second year, the upper-class team members have been able to witness the team’s full success story.

“Going into my senior year, it’s truly amazing to see how the team has grown and what it has accomplished since we began,” said Wong.

The team will continue into the next season with the success of the underclassmen. Salah’s title win is an exciting start to her time with Suffolk debate.

“Winning top speaker in JV was definitely amazing, especially after not having debated since April 2022 when I was in high school. I never thought that I would debate in college. I had always said that after my senior season ended in high school that I would stick to coaching but it was definitely a lot of fun to come out of retirement and debate with Will this season,” said Salah.

Salah has been doing debate since high school and has enjoyed the environment and community that Suffolk’s team has been able to give her as a freshman.

“Having Frank and the whole team has been really amazing. It definitely allowed me to meet new people. I’ve made some good friends as a result, which is very helpful as someone who is just starting college,” said Salah.

This team’s growth has even been visible within this season. Wong and Ludka went 1-5 in one of their previous competitions this season. Later, they went 5-1 at a competition, making it to the semifinals. This team’s journey to the national tournament was a testament to the hard work they did throughout their entire season.

“We were very proud of how much we had progressed since our experience in New York and were satisfied with how the tournament went. Everyone had really upped their game for nationals, and while we did not win, it was truly an incredible experience,” said Wong.

As the program continues to grow, students are encouraged to reach out to Irizarry if they are interested in being involved with the team.

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About the Contributor
Julia Capraro
Julia Capraro, Editor-at-Large | she/her
Julia is a sophomore broadcast journalism and psychology major from Canton, Massachusetts. In addition to writing for the Journal, she is President of Suffolk Visual Arts Club. She loves cooking, crochet and reading in her free time.

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