Chronicles of Congress: IMSA Debate Takes on Another Year

The Lincoln-Douglas (LD) Congress Debate Team | Source: IMSA

My alarm rang at 4:45 a.m. Almost a tradition, now, to wake up at least 90 minutes before call time. I’ve been doing this for the past 4 years, as a Congressional Debater, and this is merely another ICDA 1, the first tournament of the year.

Everything felt so similar, except that Dr. Dong was no longer our coach. The new coach, Mr. Leonard Lee, was my old coach at my previous high school, so I had no issue adapting. The bus remained the same. The location didn’t change. When I arrived, I saw people who competed against me for the past 4 years. A few greetings, a few jokes, nothing changed. What a familiar feeling. 

I didn’t stay for the entire ICDA 1 tournament, instead partying away at Jalsa. Still, it was a regular, ordinary debate tournament for me. But only for me.

For the vast majority of participants on IMSA’s Congressional Debate team, it was their first time. It wasn’t just a warm-up, it was the real deal. Even for those who have done debate in the past, typically they were experienced in PF or LD; this was their first Congress tournament. I could see the shock and awe in their eyes. 

Riyan Jain (26’) is a complete novice when it comes to debate. But at IMSA, everyone regardless of experience, participates in the Varsity level. Being thrown into the mix, Riyan had very realistic goals for himself.

“I had very realistic expectations. . . . familiarizing myself with the process/nuances to be followed, and getting an experience of delivering speeches, asking and answering questions.” – Riyan

It was as if he braced himself for impact, the shock of debating against competitors with years and years of experience. Indeed, he was originally intimidated by the quick thinking and critical logic of his fellow debaters. There were just so many new arguments and questions that he hadn’t considered, and the pace of the debate took some getting used to. However, as the day progressed, he adjusted to the high level of competition and began participating in more discussions. For him, the next steps are doing the hard, tedious tasks – researching the bills, practicing speech delivery, and gaining confidence throughout. 

“I think Congress debate offers an interesting proposition. . . .You are competing with each other, but also have to be friendly and nice to everyone else. . . .it improves confidence and the ability to think on one’s feet. . . .educate [oneself] on a range of topics. . . [&] conduct thorough and meaningful research.” – Riyan

To some, the culture shock of Congress wasn’t as resounding. Rather, it was a change of scenery, especially for our captain of Lincoln-Douglass Debate (LD), Sukanya Ghosh (24’). Due to logistical constraints, all other forms of debate outside of Congress have been neglected by the IMSA Speech and Debate Program, including LD and Public Forum (PF). Their participants flowed into Congress, and Sukanya was one of them. 

As LD captain, she has extensive experience in deep research and quality argumentation, often writing 5-6 pages of speeches for each tournament. So it’s compelling that her reason for joining Congress was quite the opposite. She didn’t prepare much for the first tournament because she wanted to practice extemporaneous speaking. The fast-paced nature of Congress is a major shift from LD, and it offers her the opportunity to think on her feet, relying on her debating and adaptability skills, instead of her preparations.

Her favorite part of the tournament? The bus ride there. We saw the sunrise at 6:40 a.m. on the highway as we rushed towards Elk Grove High School. Or, most of us did, some were so tired that they fell asleep. Others, like Sukanya, were cramming their last-minute speeches, making sure they were ready to go. She tried listening to music and running through her speeches but eventually found that the best way to resolve nervousness was just talking to her teammates. 

“Laughing with my teammates. . .reinvigorates feelings of community that have kept me drawn to debate for my entire IMSA experience.” – Sukanya

For some of us, it’s not quite our first rodeo, but also not “ordinary,” in any sense. And Junior Captain, Carissa Chen (25’), falls into this category. Carissa’s an incredibly talented debater who qualified for IHSA State Semifinals last year, as a first-year member. Her dedication and expertise earned her the role of Junior Captain, and she was beyond excited to participate in ICDA 1. She and Sabriya Attia (24’) co-authored Bill 202, a debate topic surrounding the Myanmar military coup. The bill was well received, even voted as Best Legislation at the end of the tournament.

Carissa’s preparation for ICDA 1 was much more complex because she had to manage the team’s practices. For this, and future tournaments, she says that Congress will first review the debate topics and come up with potential arguments; then move to speaking practice, honing our presentation skills; and lastly, mock tournaments so students are prepared for actual competitions. 

ICDA 1 was full of pleasant surprises for Carissa. She did exceptionally well in her chamber, winning an award (Best P.O.) while also helping out with Novice chambers, giving them her feedback and guidance as a Varsity member. Carissa looks to improve with the team together and provide all the help she can as Junior Captain.

“I look forward to getting closer to my teammates and spending more time getting to know them and their debating styles.” – Carissa

IMSA’s Congress has had a great start to the year, and at the end of the day, it’s just ICDA 1. Or that’s just me. Under the leadership of Avyay Duggirala (24’), Carissa Chen, and Haoran Shi (25’), every tournament is special, and each debater is unique. And I’ll certainly make my last year a good one, looking to make a name at the national level – everyone knows that there’s a mysterious school named IMSA, and in that school, there’s an accomplished debater called Representative Liu, and he’ll end his debate career with a bang.

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