Bellaire HS debate tournament goes virtual on global stage

More than 100 high schools from 23 states and China took part in Bellaire High School’s 65th Annual Forensics Debate Tournament earlier this month.

Despite the pandemic, participation was high, because, for the first time, the tournament was held virtually. The event was organized by Bellaire High School Debate coach Jay Stubbs.

The Bellaire tournament has a stellar reputation in the world of high school debating. The Boston Globe said it is “practically the Rose Bowl of the high-octane world of high school debate.”

Case in point, one former champion was a 16-year-old girl who later went on to become a Democratic Party presidential candidate and is the current U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren.

Schools that hosts debate tournaments typically do not participate in the events, so Bellaire High School students helped organize the tournament and kept it running smoothly.

“They managed the volunteers and helped tabulate the results,” Stubbs said. “It’s a lot of coordination. They did a tremendous job with it. I am very blessed to work with these kids.”

Conducting a debate online for dozens of teams is a logistical challenge. Stubbs used a different platform than is traditionally utilized for virtual debates. He used an online program designed for virtual conventions and modified it for a debate. It included about 200 different virtual meeting rooms. His approach is now being viewed by other schools as an efficient way to host future virtual debate tournaments.

Having a virtual tournament instead of a face-to-face competition not only allowed schools to avoid safety concerns and the cost of travel, it also solved a major problem for one north Texas high school student who was hospitalized but was still able to compete from his hospital bed.

Even though virtual debate tournaments are likely to become more common, Stubbs does not see them replacing the traditional format.

However, he believes there will be more virtual tournaments held around the world, which will benefit schools that were not previously able to afford to send their students to prestigious events like the annual Bellaire High School Forensics Tournament.

“Being virtual really levels the playing field for schools that don’t have the funds to attend,” Bellaire High School Principal Michael McDonough said.” That opens the door for more students to attend who have the talent but not necessarily the resources to take part in this great tradition.”