By Max ’25
Debate is one of Harvard-Westlake’s most successful and popular extracurricular activities. From 7th to 12th grade, dozens of students participate on the debate team at some point. H-W’s varsity team is nationally ranked and competes in tournaments across the country. Personally, I joined the team in 7th grade, having never debated in my life, and now I’m a varsity debater.
In 7th grade, students compete in the Middle School Public Debate Platform (MSPDP), an introductory form of debate with three debaters on each team. This allows you to become familiar with debate and decide if you want to continue with the activity. From 8th grade onwards, students participate in Lincoln-Douglas (LD) debate, a more intense, competitive, one-versus-one debate style.
The debate team doesn’t function as a club or a class. While a debate class is offered in 8th grade, it’s not competitive and doesn’t compete in tournaments. Debate functions equivalently to any other sports team, although it’s not actually part of the sports department and doesn’t count for PE credit.
Towards the beginning of 7th grade, the school holds an informational meeting about the debate team. All students are free to attend, regardless of debating skill or experience. However, many debaters also join later on, in 8th grade or as freshmen. For these students, they can join by contacting one of H-W’s three debate coaches.
The time commitment for MSPDP is not extensive, with only one or two after-school practices per week. Practices generally last from 3:30 to 5:30 at the latest. There are typically only three tournaments open to 7th graders each year, and each lasts only a day.
The first year of LD is considered a “novice year”. The time commitment is certainly larger, but not unmanageable. Practice is again only once per week, but you are expected to spend more time out of school preparing arguments or practicing speaking. After novice year, students join varsity LD, which requires more time and effort. Varsity has three practices per week, but debaters are not expected to attend all of them–most of my teammates usually go to two practices per week. More outside work is required, since varsity debaters must also write cases for the team as a whole, in addition to regular “speaking drills”.
The tournaments themselves are the highlights of being on the team. They give you opportunities to bond with your teammates, travel across the country, and win awards. For MSPDP debaters, tournaments are a single day long, and all within driving distance. In LD, on the other hand, you and your teammates often have to fly to other parts of the country, for tournaments that can last around three days.
While it can be challenging and a sizeable time commitment, the debate team has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me, significantly improving my speaking, researching, and writing skills. Even if you aren’t sure if you want to participate in debate through high school, I would definitely recommend at least trying MSPDP debate as a 7th grader if it’s something you think you might be interested in.