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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Speech and debate: one competitor’s road to states

 
Dressed in a long sleeve aqua blue shirt, black zipper tie and black running shoes that tell you he’s no normal suit-jacket, dress shoe-wearing debater, sophomore Shrey Desai finds a seat on an old wooden bench in an empty aisle of Westmont High School and takes a bite from his bagel. He’s just debated five preliminary rounds and is waiting in anticipation for the ever-feared Posting. It is going to be a long wait. 
A throng of well-dressed teenagers in business attire begin to crowd around the glass windows of the auditorium. An adult shoves his way through the crowd and posts a single white sheet of paper — The Posting — on the window. Sixteen make it to the “Go round,” which determines who qualify to states, and the rest go home. 
Dejected students begin to stray away, while others hug friends with glee. Waiting patiently for the crowd to thin, Desai marches calmly and expectantly towards the posting and smiles. “Saratoga SD” is third on the list. 
“I was really happy,” Desai said. “I knew that I was up there with the top competitors in the pool and that my hard work and focus had paid off.”
Desai was one of three Saratoga students who attended the Lincoln-Douglas debate state qualifying tournament on March 14-15 at Westmont. 
Competition was brutal: Out of 106 pooled from the best of the Bay Area, 16 made the “Go” Round, and only 8 made it to the state tournament. Desai became the first Lincoln Douglas Debater from Saratoga to make it to the state tournament since the LD team’s conception three years ago.
 
The “Go” Round
Although excited, Desai refused to let the good news cloud his ability to think as he went back to his secluded bench to get one last bite of his bagel.
“I was trying to keep it calm because if I was stressing myself out I may not [have done] well in the round,” Desai said.
When it was time for the round to begin, Desai gathered his things — laptop, accordion folders, pens — and walked into an ordinary Spanish classroom that had been transformed into a stage. Twenty spectators, including debaters eliminated from the tournament, parents and five judges, filled the room.
After losing a coin flip to determine which side of the topic he would argue, Desai reluctantly took his seat on the left, where the affirmative sits. Taking a sip from his water bottle, Desai wiped sweat off his forehead. 
His hands shook as he set his timer to six minutes, the length of his first affirmative speech. 
“I affirm. Placing political conditions on humanitarian aid to foreign countries is unjust,” he began. 
Lincoln-Douglas debate is a one-on-one event in which the competitors argue a topic tied to values and morals for around 40 minutes. As the affirmative, Desai had three short speeches to give as opposed to the negative’s two long speeches.
“Usually it’s easier if you negate because you get more time to explain your arguments,” Desai said. “I was quite scared because affirming is difficult. And I was pretty nervous.”
Debate is the art of persuasion. Simply delivering arguments and responding to one’s opponent is not enough to sway five judges. Desai’s style is that he relies on his charm and tends to be aggressive in cross examination.
“I usually press my opponents for different concessions they can make about their arguments or some flaws in their case,” Desai said.
But speaking and delivery are important as well.
“Many judges have pointed out that I have a very loud voice and that I should tone it down,” Desai said. “In fact, I have lost rounds because I’ve been very loud.”
During the go round, Desai started quickly, a bit too loud but caught himself. He tried to keep a calm composure, despite exploding with nervousness, as he read his case with his somewhat high-pitched voice. 
His opponent,  a diminutive Asian girl from Palo Alto High, scribbled furiously on her paper, hanging on to his every word. The nerves continued to strangle Desai during cross examination, but once he began his rebuttal, he knew he was set. 
When it came time for the last speech, he looked the judges in the eyes, knowing that his last words would have the strongest influence on their ballots.
“Many people watching the round commented [that] my last speech was deep, inspirational [and] fluent and it was really nice,” Desai said. 
By the end of the round, Desai felt good, but could not be certain he secured the win; he judged it to be “dead even.”
“I felt emotionally at ease and less nervous because I felt like I had gone for the right arguments and made my advocacy really explicit and clear,” he said.
 
Awards
Having used all his tricks and techniques, Desai could only await the verdict of the judges, to be announced at the awards ceremony held in the auditorium. A long table of trophies gleamed temptingly under the flourescent lights.
“I sat all the way in the back because I wanted to be away from the crowd and in my own secluded space,” Desai said. (He also conceded that he enjoys the long walk to receive awards so that he can bask in the attention).
After patient anticipation, the Presentation High School coach called the 16 debaters down to the center and announced the state qualifiers.
“He finally called my name,” Desai said. “My heart was pumping.”
Desai was not the only speech and debater to succeed at the state qualifiers. Members of the Individual Events or speech team, including senior Mohith Subbarao and junior Anjali Manghnani in original oratory and junior Supriya Khandekar in oratorical interpretation will also be attending states. All three qualified in their respective events at the IE state qualifying tournament on March 8.
Desai has every intention of doing his best at the state tournament on April 25-27 at James C. Enochs High School in Modesto. 
“I am going to prepare pretty hard [for states],” Desai said. “I did not have enough of a force going into the state qualifiers as I did not have such a high expectation for it. But now that I have this opportunity, I don’t want to blow it up.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
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