The Debater's Debt

AmandaLesly Miranda | 11/15/23

Depending on the tournament, participation can be quite a struggle, especially since there can be some pretty large fees to compete. And, this struggle is particularly evident for national and international tournaments where expenses can pile up quickly, including food, lodging, and sometimes airfare depending on the distance. For example, just a trip to the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA) National Championships can cost approximately a thousand dollars per student, notably so if travel is involved, hotel accommodations are necessary, and tournament fees are charged. These costs can be a significant financial burden due to how demanding they are, and unfortunately, they can also limit the opportunities for teams to compete and restrict ways for individuals to be involved.

As a person coming from a Title I school, competing in tournaments can be a daunting task, and we’re a small team. We cannot bring a bus full of children; only a van or two, since we need drivers and we need to budget gas. We have to buy meals for the students depending on how long our trips are, which is usually breakfast and lunch on tournament days. On certain days it even gets very challenging to provide for everyone because we bring such a large number of passionate students with us, even though we never bring more than five to ten students, maybe even fifteen. Not to mention, when it comes to going on these trips, we have to get all of the approval forms from the district and the county, and you also must make sure that certain field trip forms are notarized if it's overnight or if it's even out of state, and that usually costs money. You have to pay someone to get it notarized where we are due to the lack of notaries in our area, and that can become very tedious because if they don’t charge, you have to find time in your schedule and work around their schedule. Additionally, getting proper attire for our debaters because we have made it our personal policy that everyone should be able to participate. We don't usually have to do this, considering that we make our policy that you just have to have a nice shirt and some slacks, but this can get challenging whenever we go to bigger tournaments such as NSDA nationals.

The question that my team always gets, however? How do we manage to keep the money and how do we use it effectively? It's very simple: we just do lots of fundraising. This means going into our community and asking for donations, contacting local businesses to see if they want to sponsor the debate team, and sometimes even partnering with local restaurants to have a discount night where percentages of the check go to our debate team. This is what helps bring us our money, and this is what helps bring us to all of these tournaments. We love to debate, and we love to be involved in all of these different activities, but it's very hard to do so when you're in an underfunded public school and underfunded community. This is simply from a school and team perspective, not an individual perspective.

My team had attended the National Civics and Debate Championship Veterans’ Day weekend in Orlando, and that's how we fund all the things that we do throughout the year. Each student is given a $750 stipend, and that stipend is used throughout the entire year. We budget everything where if we do any overnight trips we squish as many students into a room as possible, we always take the vans from the school that way we only have to pay for gas, and we try to eat at the cheapest place possible that will use our tax exemption. These things are extremely important to teams because you have to make sure that those money last throughout the entire season. but, at the same time, this is how we provide for our team. by applying for various debate scholarships through tournaments, we're able to fund raise only two or three times during the debate year, and stretch it out for that entire school year and maybe even longer.

Those in the debate community, they simply go into something that I like to call a debater's debt. it's not that we owe something to someone, or that we are owed a win or gavel, but it's the debt that we face for greatness. We strive to achieve so much in just the little time that we are involved in forensics in high school, and by the end of everything that we have done, we will have funneled thousands and thousands of dollars into this activity. Earlier, I mentioned just the school perspective and how I see it as a student and the captain for my debate team, trying to make sure that every member has what they need to succeed and debate. Meanwhile, in reality, we face the struggle of also having to pay for camps for individual things needed to help a student get better, and maybe even trying to face a challenge of getting to different tournaments outside of a school setting.

But in the end, it's always worth it. You just have to budget your money properly, and you have to always continue to strive for more, because when you are able to get that money and you are able to succeed, then you are going to be successful in the debate world. It can be quite pricey, but all of the experience that you are going to gain here is going to help you dramatically in the future. You might not see it just now, and you might never see it at all, but this is going to be what helps you get further in life. It's not that you're going to fail if you don't need to debate, but this is what's going to give you that advantage over others. The debate community risks it all for these events, giving up some of their savings just to do these events, but this is what we love and this is what we do. The debater's debt can be great, but the change that we will make because of debate will be greater.