GHS Debate Team: Winning Tournaments, Becoming Better Speakers, Seeing Both Sides

The Greenwich High School Debate Team, advised by social studies teacher Aaron Hull, is an impressive group. Comprised of both varsity and novice members, the student led team is overseen by juniors and seniors.

Greenwich High School debate team novice and varsity members, with advisor Aaron Hull. Front: Amrutha Nandakumar (12, V), Elias Orrell (10, N), Maia Coplit (10, N), Ashley Malkin (11, V), Lula Wang (9, V), Zara Haque (11, V). Back: Mr. Hull, Mark Asada (10, N), Arnav Bhatia (9, N), Hadrian Nobay (10, N), Marcus Throop (11, V), Matthew Huang (11, V). Not pictured: Max Lu (12, V), Aubrey Niederhoffer (12, V), Shuya van Dooijeweert (12, V), Connor Hone (12, V). March 12, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager


This year the leadership team, who are all varsity debaters, includes seniors Max Lu, Amrutha Nandakumar and Aubrey Niederhoffer, as well as juniors Zara Haque and Ashley Malkin.

The program runs the full year, and the students have had an excellent year indeed, with 15 State debate qualifiers, representing both the varsity and novice divisions.

“The students do a phenomenal job of running their own club on Tuesday afternoons, as well as preparing the students for the debates,” Mr. Hull said.

He added that the program was very well supported by parents who attend the debates on Saturdays, which run from 8:30am until typically about 4:30 or 5:00pm.

The parents support the students, not only with travel, but by judging the debates, because in order to participate one judge is required for every four debaters.

“Parents coaches who are members of the PTA, have collectively provided hundreds of hours of support collectively,” Mr. Hull said.

The students have also chosen to compete outside the Connecticut Debate Association, and have worked diligently with the school district and have the support of their parents who serve as chaperones and judges – sometimes virtually, sometimes in person.

Recently, team member Lula Wang, while still a freshman, earned the degree of Superior Distinction from the National Speech and Debate Association. The recognition reflected her standout performance at a number of national National Speech and Debate Association tournaments. In fact, the distinction took into account that Lula competed successfully in tournaments when she was still in middle school, including in Kentucky and Arizona.

Amrutha, who has participated on the debate team all four years at GHS, said, “We have a really cool group of people who represent a lot of different interests. Some people come here because they want to become more confident public speakers. Some come for the competitive aspect.”

“The style of debate we do – Parliamentary – lends itself to strong logic and strong argumentation,” Amrutha said. “So you can’t out-research your opponents. You have to out-think and out-speak your opponents.”

Ashley Malkin who is a junior on the leadership team, said it had been rewarding to watch the novices hone their skills.

“It’s been great to see the freshmen, who arrived with some middle school debate background, or maybe not much background at all, improve so much over the course of the year,” she said.

Ashley, who also participates in the school’s science research program, said debate had helped her tremendously with her science fair presentations.

“Debate has helped me clearly formulate my science ideas,” she added. “Debate skills transfer to all the extra-curricular activities where speaking is involved.”

“I think the cool thing about Parliamentary debate is that it’s really about having positive discourse and expressing yourself well,” Amrutha said. “We focus a lot on the idea that debate is a skill that can be taught – not something you’re necessarily born with.”

“You can build and learn, and become more skilled, not just as a speaker, but as a listener and someone who thinks about ideas in a critical sense,” she added.

Zara agreed. “My experience in debate has enabled me to present and articulate what my research is about and that has been very helpful. I also think that debate teaches you how to think in a unique way. In history and English classes, I’ve been able to engage in class discussions in new ways because doing debate helps you see new perspectives and realize that issues are many sided. I’ll often go into debate rounds and be inclined toward arguing for one side, but come out of the tournament at the end of the day having rethought my personal leanings.”

“Because you hear compelling arguments on both sides, and having to argue for both sides, really puts you in the shoes of someone else with a different belief,” Zara said.

Zara said that since Mr. Hull had become the advisor for the team this year he had been a great source of stability and support for the club.

“It’s been a journey for all of us to learn about the in’s and out’s of how the tournaments work. I’m also really grateful Mr. Hull has enabled us to participate in tournaments both in the state and outside Connecticut.”