By Anna Zwahlen

Debate team leader sophomore Bella Guess demonstrates a run through of speaking drills to improve her speech abilities Friday, Jan. 27.

Sophomore Bella Guess leads novices through the complex world of debate

Novice debaters detail their experience with debate and Guess' exceptional leadership

The world of debate is vast and often very intimidating for new members. Luckily for this year’s novices, National Debate qualifier sophomore Bella Guess has stepped into the vacant role of student leadership. 

With the previous year’s upperclassmen dropping the program or graduating, the team suffered from a lack of experienced members.

“My twin and debate partner Luci and I ended up being the most experienced people on the team, so we naturally just had to be the leaders,” Guess said.

Having experienced peers to explain new concepts in the program is not only helpful, but necessary in debate. Students like Guess can be the boost that novices need to get through the overwhelming onslaught of new terms, rules and procedures.

According to freshman Jordan Powell, one of the most significant gaps in understanding is the new lexicon of vocabulary that comes with beginning debate.

“There’s like a whole other language you have to learn when you do debate,” Powell said.

Most students entering into debate, like sophomore Sophie Hsu, do so with absolutely no prior understanding of the subject or its procedures beyond making arguments.

“I think it’s definitely like a gap in understanding at first,” Hsu said. “You really just have to throw yourself in there and just hope that you start catching hold of what you’re doing,” Hsu said.

According to these novice debaters, Guess and her sister Luci were critical in “catching hold” of the new concepts of debate. For these novice debaters, Guess’ encouragement, positive attitude and general willingness to help were above and beyond what would be expected of an average student.

“[Guess] was just always there whenever we asked for help,” Hsu said. “She and Luci were always just making all of these new cases and spending so much of their time trying to help every single person that debates.” 

Guess’ dedication and ability to help these novices comes largely from the fact that she, herself, was a new debater only last year. Since then, she and Luci have attended camps, seminars and done outside research to improve their abilities.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” Guess said. “So we definitely turned to a lot of kids who had done debate previously,as well as the coach, just asking other people what to do.”

According to Powell, Guess’ continuation of her own learning gives her a unique ability to walk the line between the expert and the amateur.

“[Guess] was also new last year, so she had more of an understanding of what we were all dealing with,” Powell said. [A leader is] someone who can understand where you’re struggling, and how to help. And she really, [Guess] really did that, they both did.”

According to Hsu and freshman Mae Reynolds, Guess’ encouraging but firm attitude helped them to grow as debaters.

“When we had all of this help from Bella and Luci, we were able to really just push our debate skills even more because we had someone to go into,” Hsu said.

Reynolds concurs, noting not only Guess’ positive attitude, but also her ability to maintain focus in the team as a whole.

“[Guess] definitely took charge and she made sure everyone was staying on task, and she always just really was super positive and a great encourager,” Reynolds said.

Within all of her dedication and commitment to helping her debaters, Guess has noticed improvement of her own as a result of her responsibilities in a leadership position. 

“I think being a leader is very important, and it should be something that everyone should aspire to be,” Guess said. “ I’ve found myself trying to be more of a leader in other aspects, seeing the impact I was able to have being a leader in debate.”

The impact that Guess has had as a leader on the novices who look up to her is evident. Neither Hsu, Reynolds nor Powell had any criticism to offer about Guess as a leader. To Hsu, Guess fits her criteria of a leader in all aspects and goes above and beyond the expectations for a second year debater.

“I see a leader as someone who’s just willing to help everyone no matter what it takes,” Hsu said. “They’re willing to put in their time so that other people can learn faster and that they can learn from their mistakes and I think Bella fits this very well.”

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