Make Hybrid WSD Teams the Norm
Nicholas Ostheimer | 9/2/22
World Schools Debate has a peculiar place in the world of high school debate. World schools debate, otherwise known as WSD, is a 3v3 debate format, which emphasizes international issues. WSD is also a common form of competition in international competitions, most remarkably the World Schools Debating Championships, an international championship where countries send a debate team to represent them on the international stage. The United States' team, USA Debate, has been around since 2014. Since then, the NSDA has tried to promote WSD as an event throughout the United States.
In some ways, they have succeeded, but outside of Texas and a few other large debate states, WSD is a pretty uncommon event. Many NSDA districts don't even send any competitors to nationals to compete in the WSD divisions, and many choose a team without making them compete in a regional qualifier, simply because there isn't enough interest.
Frankly, WSD is a pretty cool event. It emphasizes team collaboration in- and out-round, has approachable norms, and compared to events like circuit LD and CX, lacks esoteric jargon and has no massive learning curves. Rounds are focused on analytics and organic argumentation, and to varying degrees, some lay appeal. Despite all this, WSD is not a prevalent debate format across America.
I think there are a few very identifiable reasons why which can be solved by normalizing 'hybrid' teams.
Team size: A single round may be 3v3, but a WSD team usually consists of five (5) members, where two members can be swapped off the team. It can be extremely difficult for schools to find 5 different debaters who synergize and want to compete on the same team. As someone from a small school, there literally aren't 5 active debaters on my team - the same rings true for programs across the country.
Small team exclusion: This also uniquely excludes small and underprivileged debate programs - unsurprisingly, schools with large debate programs, especially those with a specific focus on WSD (like Greenhill, Coppell) have a much easier time putting together WSD teams than smaller schools. Because of this, wealthy and large programs are overrepresented in WSD, and the smallest programs by definition cannot participate.
Resource availability: Every other speech and debate event has a long history and a massive amount of resources, in one form another. There must be dozens of LD summer camps. There's a plethora of congress videos and how-to on YouTube. Comparatively, there's not much of this for WSD. This is because the single-school restriction on teams inherently favors privileged programs, which keep resources insulated, or only accessible through massive coach or camp fees. A prime example of this is the Global Debate Symposium, where last summer, the cheapest virtual program cost $1.4k, and the cheapest in-person option cost $2.8k. Note that the director of this camp also happens to be Director of Debate at Greenhill, and co-head coach of USA Debate.
(There are notable exceptions to this, including Space City Camp, an annual summer camp that gives extremely good coaching at no cost. It's also worth noting that Space City Camp started after the Space City NSDA district won nats in WSD - the team, of course, was a hybrid team.)
Geography: Some states, like Texas, place a pretty significant focus on WSD. The most successful schools on the national circuit, like Greenhill and Coppell, all hail from Texas. By contrast, other states that may be relatively active in other forms of debate have very little or no WSD at all. This could be for any number of reasons - a lack of institutional support, no tournaments with WSD aside from NSDA quals, or people simply don't know it exists.
So now the issues with WSD are clear - how can hybrid teams fix these problems?
Let's define a hybrid team. A hybrid team consists of debaters from two or more different schools. Overwhelmingly many local, state, and natcirc tournaments don't allow hybrid teams to compete, restricting competition only to teams where all debaters represent a single school. In a world where hybrid teams were the norm, these competitions would allow debaters from different schools to form teams together.
Evidently, many of the issues with WSD stem from the single-school restriction. Many debate programs just don't have five (5) different students who have the time, dedication, and synergy to compete on the same team. Many debate programs, especially small or underprivileged schools, don't have five (5) students who can compete together to begin with. However, if these schools could work together and put teams together without the single-school restriction, this doesn't need to be a problem. I may be the only active debater on my team, but I know half a dozen WSD debaters I'd love to compete alongside in the state of Florida, and easily more than 20 outside of Florida.
Once there's more interest in WSD, and the odds aren't stacked against small teams more than they already are, accessible resources will naturally follow. We already see this in the status quo - hybrid teams like Space City put together camps and programs that make WSD much more accessible, and organizations like Equality in Forensics host free mentoring programs where every single WSD coach was or is part of a hybrid team.
Being a part of the USA Dev team last year revolutionized my debate experience, and a large part of that was due
to the people I got to work with. In states without a strong WSD focus, or on teams that don’t have resources to
dedicate to the event, finding a group of people to work with is a huge barrier to entry. The value of this event
comes from engagement with diverse perspectives, and I think the entire community loses out when passionate
and talented debaters are barred from world schools because of the place they live in or the school they go to.
Ollie Braden, USA Debate 22-23
And finally, geography - when schools can compete together across state lines, the geographic disparities unique to WSD eventually dissipate. Debaters will be able to connect with debaters in other states. Debaters in states with no WSD support may be able to cooperate and compete alongside debaters in states with massive WSD support. Actually, the first time I competed in WSD was at the UHouston Cougar Classic, which is one of the very few natcirc tournaments that allows hybrid teams. My team had debaters from California, Texas, and Florida.
Outside of explicitly solving these problems with WSD in the US, hybrid teams have other benefits.
We need to realize that nearly every single team that has won NSDA nationals in WSD has been a hybrid team. This is because NSDA nationals uniquely only restrict teams by district, rather than by school. Some of the best WSD debaters in the country have come from tiny programs, competed alongside debaters from other schools in their district, champed nats, and then go on to coach at GDS or join USA Debate. There's an incredible amount of untapped debate talent in the US simply because hybrid teams aren't the norm.
Hybrid teams incentivize cross-collaboration and networking between schools. When I qualified for the 2022 NSDA nationals in WSD, although I couldn't actually go, I made new friends and met new people simply because I had this sole opportunity to be part of a hybrid team. The constant opportunities to make friends, network, and meet new people puts debate in a very special place in my heart. Normalizing hybrid teams would make WSD the prime opportunity to do exactly this.
Finally, we need to examine how organizations and tournaments can actively adopt hybrid teams as the norm.
First of all, it's already being done now. Tournaments like the UHouston Cougar Classic and the Greenhill Fall Classic permit hybrid teams to compete in their open divisions. Other natcirc tournaments should just follow suit. Every concern about hybrid teams can and has been addressed by tournaments like these, who have been hosting hybrid teams for years.
State tournaments with WSD that don't allow hybrid teams could adopt the NSDA's district model for allowing hybrid teams, by limiting teams by district instead of school. They could also just allow debaters from across the state to form their own teams, and host a state-wide qualifier. For example, the 2022 Florida Forensics League (FFL) state championship had only 15 teams participating in the WSD division, each of which had to qualify at a regional qualifier. At my regional qualifier, the WSD team auto qualified because no other team signed up. If only the regional qualifier allowed region-wide hybrid teams to participate, or if the league held a separate statewide qualifier for state-wide hybrid teams, WSD participation could be much, much more accessible and appealing across Florida.
The NSDA could also play a role in normalizing WSD debate in local leagues. The NSDA already organizes district-wide hybrid teams for many districts every single year - why not organize year-long local teams that could be uniquely eligible to compete at local, state, and natcirc tournaments?
WSD's unique format makes it a unique challenge for leagues and debate organizations to facilitate. Instead of ignoring this nuance and limiting teams to a single school, leagues and organizations should examine different ways to allow and foster hybrid teams. WSD is a truly fascinating debate event, and although I may be from a tiny debate program, I look forward to focusing on it for the rest of my high school debate career. I hope that the powers-that-be focus on making World Schools Debate more accessible and enjoyable for thousands of other debaters.