DHS varsity debate team participates in Tournament of Champions


Max van Kruijssen (left) and Will Kochel at the Tournament of Champions after winning their final round. Photo by Beth McMahon

Elle Girard

On Saturday, April 15th to Monday, April 17th, Decatur High School (DHS) varsity debate team members Will Kochel and Max van Kruijssen competed in the JW Patterson Tournament of Champions (TOC) at the University of Kentucky. Representing the Atlanta Urban Debate League, they won 3 out of 7 rounds. 

“[Debate] is a year-round activity, and we’ve been working on this since the beginning of summer. Most of our preparation for the TOC was research and giving practice speeches,” Kochel said. Van Kruijssen also commented on their efficiency in writing arguments for the TOC.

This year, the debate topic was “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its security cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in one or more of the following areas: artificial intelligence, biotechnology, cybersecurity.” By the guidelines of policy debate, the affirmative team prepared a hypothetical solution to the prompt, while the negative team reasoned why it could be hurtful. 

“Because there were so many teams attending and such a diversity of arguments, we had to concentrate more on preparing arguments that could be used in many circumstances, compared to specific answers to other teams,” van Kruijssen said. 

The Tournament of Champions is known to host some of the most competitive and successful debate teams in the country. To qualify, schools must earn at least two bids, or votes, from other national circuit tournaments, where each event has a certain requirement of progression. The DHS debate team has attended national tournaments throughout the course of the 2022-2023 school year. They earned bids at the Damus Hollywood Invitational in Los Angeles, Samford University, and the University of Georgia tournaments. Will Kochel and Maggie Stearns also earned bids at Westminster University and Georgetown Day School this year. 

Beth Mcmahon, the DHS debate coach explained how the team was able to attend under certain circumstances that similar-sized programs at other schools would typically be unable to do. 

“We were outnumbered by larger private schools,” she said. Because Emory University sponsors DHS as a debate ambassador school, much of their endeavors are covered financially, including the trip to Kentucky. 

While the season may be over, the DHS debate team hopes to continue to pursue national tournaments for the 2023-2024 school year.