Jackson Heights teen qualifies for prestigious debate competition

Jackson Heights debater Emma Anderson


A Jackson Heights high school student has qualified to compete in the prestigious Tournament of Champions, a national high school debate tournament held at the University of Kentucky.

Emma Anderson, a junior at the Loyola School, will debate in the tournament in April.

The Tournament of Champions (TOC) is a national high school debate tournament that is considered to be the national championship of the “National Circuit.”

In order to qualify, you must place high enough in other competitions to earn bids. At least two bids are needed to compete. Anderson secured the placement by reaching the semi-finals at the Barkley Forum for High Schools at Emory University.

“It’s kind of weird to process. I was really happy that I qualified but at the same time I was like, ‘Wow, like this is really happening,’” Anderson said. “But then, I feel like it maybe set in and I’m proud of what I have achieved and how I’ve been able to work for this but also at the same time it’s scary because there are so many other amazing debaters that have also worked even harder so it’s going to be fun to be able to compete with all of them and really challenge myself in such a great environment. I love the people who are in debate.”

Anderson joined her high school debate team when she was only a sophomore, making this her second year competing on her team.

“I’ve always been interested in politics and kind of like current events. And so, I just decided to try it out in sophomore year and it turns out I really liked it and I was really happy with my progress and the people that I met and I just felt like it’s an extracurricular I really enjoyed and I’d love to foster my passion for it.”

In the short time that Anderson has been on her debate team, she has earned a leadership role along with two others to guide debaters and help them prepare for upcoming competitions.

“We coach all the novices and we run all the practices each week,” Anderson said. “We spend that time preparing but also we’ll spend a lot of the nights writing speeches or researching our topics and then the night before we usually just wrap some things up and make sure everything is good to go.”

Since the pandemic, competitions have been held via Zoom, which Anderson has been grateful for because it gives her the opportunity to gain experience by competing in tournaments all over the U.S. that she normally wouldn’t have had the chance to be a part of.

“They’re holding [the TOC] remotely this year, like a lot of the different tournaments will be so, they’ve done a lot of them over Zoom and it’s been really nice because we haven’t had to pay for travel costs so you can go to a lot of different tournaments and meet a lot of new different people,” Anderson said. “This year, we have been able to go to so many more tournaments and that’s brought up so many opportunities just because we haven’t had to travel or we’re not just limited to the East Coast; we can branch out to different regions.”

TOC holds the following categories: policy debate, Lincoln-Douglas debate, public forum debate, and congressional debate as well as some other individual events. Anderson will be competing in the congressional debate category.

Anderson will be given a few debate topics two weeks before the competition in order to prepare. Then, in the few days leading up to the competition, information will be sent out confirming which topic the judges want her to debate.

The competition works in a bracket-style format in which you start off with all the competitors in a preliminary round and it will slowly dwindle from there. If you pass the first round, you will be placed in different sections such as the chambers section. If you place well, you will be advanced to the semi-final round and then the final round.

The former director of debate at the University of Kentucky, Dr. J. W. Patterson created the competition. Since its 1971 establishment, the tournament has served as one of the best, top-tier competitions around, allowing the highest-ranking debaters in America to compete. This eliminates the possibility of competing against less-experienced debaters, which runs the risk of affecting the rankings. Further, this competition will be judged by qualified individuals rather than volunteers or parents commonly found at other debate tournaments.

“At the Tournament of Champions, everyone is qualified. You know, it’s some of the best in the nation and it’s a lot more competitive and the fact that one is able to get there is an accomplishment in and of itself,” Anderson says. “So, it’s really exciting to be a part of it.”

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