Before getting into a debate with Loomis Chaffee students, it would be wise to find out more about them. And if they are on the debate team, it might be best to reconsider. Since the mid-1980s, Loomis has won about 400 debate awards in both league and international competitions.
On Sunday, January 22, the Pelicans are hosting their annual Loomis Chaffee Debate tournament with about 14 schools participating in a policy debate. All competitors will debate both sides of a policy resolution, which is not released until the morning of the debate. Each debater gets a packet of information and articles (about 10–12 pages) relevant to the resolution. Debaters then have one hour to work with their teammates to prepare their cases before the first round of debates begins. Once the resolution is announced, debaters cannot access any information other than what is in the packet.
There is no time to waste.
“Debate teaches students to think critically,” said Michelle Ruffle, a faculty adviser for the debate team. “It also teaches how to have empathy and how to support your ideas and arguments on either side of the topic, which then promotes understanding.”
There are novice and advanced divisions in the Loomis tournament, each with a format of six-minute constructive speeches, three-minute cross examinations, and four-minute rebuttals.
About 55 students are on the Loomis debate team this year.
“It is a student-led group,” Michelle said, “so students take the lead in terms of debating, coaching, and training other students.”
Debaters meet about three times a week. At one recent meeting, on Thursday, January 12, the debaters gathered for a general meeting led by Michelle, and then the students broke into groups to prepare for the upcoming tournament. In one of the groups was sophomore Luke Han, who as a leadership team member helps guide the debaters.
“I think it is especially important for people new to debate because it can be intimidating at first, but if you get into it and past that initial barrier, it can be very rewarding and useful for students in an academic sense,” Luke said. “When I started debate, I believe it helped me with my schoolwork. The fact there are people in place to help others get into debating is really a nice thing.”
Loomis competes in two leagues: DANEIS (Debating Association of New England Independent Schools) and CDA (Connecticut Debate Association). The team participates in about 20 DANEIS or CDA events during the winter term on a Saturday or a Sunday. The Loomis tournament is a DANEIS event.
Curt Robison, the longtime faculty adviser to the debate team, is on sabbatical this year. He has been instrumental in building the prominent program.
“To do the activity well requires commitment and hard work, but it can be fun and ultimately very beneficial,” Curt has written in a document outlining the program for students. “Numerous debate alumni have become lawyers, or work in publishing — one of our debate alums even worked in the White House. To get a lot out of it, one must put in a lot.”
There is no debating that fact.