The country’s top high school debaters speak up about their sport
As individuals, Raam Tambe and Jerry Wang are skilled teen competitors with distinct personalities and skills. As a team, they are high school debate’s reigning national champions. End of discussion.
Hey guys, tell us how you both got into debate.
Jerry Wang: My mom pushed me into the activity when I was in sixth grade. I hated it. I wasn’t terrified of public speaking, per se, but at that time I’d rather be swimming or hanging out with friends. I started out doing an expository speech event—no debating involved. And after winning first place at a local tournament, I thought, “Hey maybe this won’t be so bad after all.” The next class session, though, a new coach walked in: Scott Wheeler. Little did I know I’d be spending my next seven years with him. He cultivated my interest in the activity.
Raam Tambe: My older brother was, and still is, heavily involved in debate. My decision to join debate was primarily just me following his footsteps.
How did you get teamed up with each other?
JW: After being mentored by Mr. Wheeler for three years in middle school, I decided to follow him to Palos Verdes where he’d be coaching debate at Peninsula High. Although going to Peninsula was mainly to continue learning under Wheeler’s guidance, I also already knew Raam from middle school debate and knew how good he was. I was hoping I could debate with him.
RT: We actually weren’t planning on being partners when we were freshman—or at least I wasn’t.
JW: He didn’t want to debate with me. He was fixated on Lincoln Douglas debate, which was one-on-one—no partnerships. Raam was already successful in the event and saw no reason to switch to policy debate to team up with me.
RT: I thought that I would just stick with that for four years. The year Jerry and I stepped on campus, Coach Wheeler insisted I do policy with Jerry. He couldn’t have given better advice.
How does that partnership work when debating or competing?
JW: Despite our drastically different personalities, we actually work well as a team. We have different strengths and weaknesses, which makes us great complements to each other. This allows us to effectively wield and execute a wide variety of arguments and develop creative strategies. We also have different opinions on how the game operates, which helps us test each other’s ideas while we’re still developing them. Usually if one of us is lost or confused, the other knows exactly what to do.
RT: Often we’ll disagree about strategic decisions, and it creates a very interesting dynamic—especially since we have quite different personalities and views on debate.
What have you guys accomplished as a team so far?
JW: Winning the 2016 national championship. Everything we had done that year was geared toward the ultimate prize. Not only had we both invested our summers into researching and reading about the topic, but we also gave up a lot of leisure time during the school year, attempting to become experts in the resolution’s literature base.
RT: We’re also the only intact team in history to win the Montgomery Bell Academy Tournament twice, a highly competitive and exclusive tournament in Nashville. We won this tournament for the second time going undefeated and receiving 18 out of 18 possible ballots, as well as being recognized as the top two individual speakers. We’ve won other titles at major national tournaments such as winning the UC Berkeley Tournament, a tournament of over 200 teams, the Greenhill Tournament, the St. Marks tournament, as well as a few other invite-only round-robins across the country.
JW: We won the Baker Cup with one tournament left. We were also both sick with a severe stomach flu, which didn’t make it any easier.
What was your most thrilling moment?
JW: Quarterfinals of the Tournament of Champions. At arguably the hardest tournament of the year, Raam and I were up against Glenbrook North—a team we were 0-2 against that year. Glenbrook North is known for their tricky style of debating, and they read an incredibly strategic position against our new affirmative. Raam and I had to rise above expectations to win the round.
How about the worst?
RT: The moments where you know you have nothing to say and have to put something together in the limited time you have before your speech.
JW: Raam has a severe peanut allergy and almost went into anaphylactic shock while we were in Utah after eating a mole sauce that contained peanuts. That was pretty scary.
RT: For now, summer vacation. Last year I spent 110 days away from home—eight weeks of which were over the summer. Since our first tournament is in September and the last tournament in June, I really haven’t had a significant break in high school.
What about after high school?
RT: I’m not sure where I’ll be going to college yet, but potentially college debate. After that, I’m not sure what I want to do, but likely law school or I’ll try to get a doctorate. I plan on studying something social science-related, whether that be economics, sociology or history.
JW: I’m planning to major in philosophy. After undergraduate school, I want to go to law school. My dream job is to become a Supreme Court justice.
Does debate extend into other parts of your life?
JW: I use my speech and debate skills every day. By evaluating the intricacies of different arguments, I’ve developed my critical thinking skills, increased my persuasiveness, heightened my decision-making abilities, enhanced my creativity and had my personal beliefs challenged—all useful traits that play a key component in school, other activities or even just daily interactions.
RT: I personally feel incredibly indebted to debate. It helped me find my voice and amplify it. Politically, ideologically and ethically, debate has shaped who I am through a constant process of research and argumentation. No single experience could have been more valuable to my development as a person.