Alumni Spotlight: Savdharia Sisters

From winning first place at multiple debate tournaments, qualifying for prestigious tournaments, and being team captains for over 6 years, to interning at USC and Boeing, solving equity in debate, and enrolling at USC on a Biochemistry track, twins Harishri and Hitakshi Savdharia truly represent the best of debate and the spirit of OCDL.

Their debate journey first started at a New England Academy summer camp during their fifth grade year. After pursuing debate through NEA during their 5th and 6th grade years, they started competing for their school debate team at Fairmont North Tustin. What started as a want to gain public speaking, critical thinking, and team-work skills ended in success for the twins. During their middle school years, Harishri and Hitakshi broke numerous records in the league. Hitakshi won the coveted Hopkins gavel, the equivalent of first place speaker, and best overall debater. She also had a record of 17 wins to 1 loss her 8th grade year, as well as an 87-point average. Harishri broke the record for the highest speaker score in OCDL history, a 95, and won second and third place speaker. During these middle school years, not only did the twins debate together, but they also were team captains of Fairmont North Tustin’s team. To top it off, they represented their school at the Middle School Tournament of Champions in Kentucky where they won first place. 

Harishri’s and Hitakshi’s success continued throughout high school as well. They qualified for quarter-finals at the renowned Berkley tournament during their sophomore year, semi-finals at Apple Valley, finals at La Costa, and double-octofinals at Stanford, ASU, and UNLV. They continued to be team captains throughout high school for Fairmont Prep and also started an initiative to engage women in the skill of debate called beyond resolved. Hitakshi was Secretary of the Board of Directors and Harishri was President. Through these efforts, they tried increasing equity in debate and increasing the number of women in an often male-dominated sport. 

Along with debate, they both displayed strong academic rigor through the completion of the International Baccalaureate program. In their free time, they love to dance. Some of the styles the Savdharia sisters practiced were Bharatnatyam, Bollywood, Latin Ballroom, and Hip-hop. Throughout high school they remained good contributors to society and even accumulated over 430 service hours each. Outside of debate, they both participated in ASB and the Red Cross Club at their school.

The Savdharia twins attribute their success in their various projects and accomplishments to the skills that they acquired through years of participation in debate. They have also been active in the community they live in, and they are devoted to changing our world for the better through their internships, initiatives, and service. They prompt other debaters to work hard at all their goals and encourage everyone to participate in debate!

Dear Mac: Trouble With POIs

Every month, Mac answers your questions about debate, all while giving wise advice. Submit a question to her here!

Dear Mac,

I know that POIs are an important component to a debate round. However, I have issues coming up with any that are strategic and add meaning during rounds. How do you come up with good POIs that are actually productive in rounds?


Trouble with POIs

Dear “Trouble with POIs”,

I agree that POIs, or points of information, are very important to the round. They allow a debater to interject in a speech without fully interrupting. POIs are especially important for clash, which creates a more engaging and lively debate. However, I understand that thinking critically on the spot can be difficult. 

There are many ways that you can improve your critical thinking skills and formulate POIs. One way that I prepared myself for rounds was by running drills. In one drill that I often practiced, at least one other person read off arguments for a certain topic. After listening to the arguments, I would formulate a POI based on what they said within a given period of time (mostly 5-15 seconds). This drill prepared me for the upcoming topics and gave me more experience for the tournament. 

If you are still unconfident with your ability to think on the spot, there are other ways to practice saying POIs without using this drill. Another method I would use to compose POIs was to have a list of evidence and pre-written POIs beforehand that I used during a round. That way if I found a piece of credible evidence to prove my opponent wrong or if I had a POI that was effective for the most recent argument, I was able to not only respond quickly but also sound persuasive–my POIcould even be supported by evidence. The only issue here is that this method can cause you to read from your papers during rounds, so take this advice with a grain of salt.

In conclusion, while POIs may seem difficult to come up with, there are many ways that you can prepare yourself, such as running drills with your teammate or coach, or just pre-writing them. Ultimately, POIs are so important to a good round, so just try your best. Hopefully after reading this, you can improve your POIs and use them meaningfully in your debates!



Alumni Spotlight: Dean Alamy

In our latest installment of the Alumni Spotlight, we feature high school senior Dean Alamy. Dean has been an exceptional member of our debate community for seven years. He participated in the Middle School Public Debate Program (MSPDP) for three years and in Public Forum for four years. Throughout these years, he has exemplified his talent in the art of debate and was even ranked as the #1 Public Forum Debater in California by the National Speech and Debate Association this year. Dean explains, “Throughout high school, I have been heavily involved in speech and debate, which all started through my involvement in the OCDL as a middle-schooler.” Throughout his years in OCDL, he was co-captain of the Fairmont Prep Debate Team. Since then, he has successfully competed at various public forum tournaments, including being invited to the prestigious Berkeley Invitational. He has stayed connected with his debate alma mater, OCDL, by coaching the Brookhurst debate team, which competes in the League.

Dean explains that debate has helped him immensely even out of the classroom. He said he has “found that [his] experiences with debate and the skills [he has] picked up along the way have been integral to [his] success in and out of the classroom. Even though [his] studies focus on STEM, [he] finds that debate and the ability to speak publicly have helped allow [him] to flourish and become a more confident person.” Dean will be attending Stanford University next year as a part of the class of 2025. At Stanford, Dean plans to study bioengineering. Dean wants to relay onto other debaters that “the community I have built and relationships I’ve been able to form have created a home for me–I’ve noticed that the majority of my close friends were once opponents in a debate round.”

Dear Mac: Trouble with Teammate

Every month, Mac answers your questions about debate, all while giving wise advice. Submit a question to her here!

Dear Mac,

I have a teammate that does not appear to be doing his best or putting in his best effort. I think my teammate could do a better job in his AREI’s, such as using two pieces of evidence and making his impacts more than one sentence long. However, I don’t know how to tell him. Can you help me?


Trouble with Teammate

Dear “Trouble with Teammate,”

Debate is an activity that is supposed to be centered around teamwork, so I am sorry that you are having issues with your teammate. In regards to your teammate putting in more work, sometimes debaters just have work ethic issues while doing research and writing cases. Sectioning off certain parts of a case can worsen this issue. I have found that sitting down and working with your teammates at the same time has helped me in the past. Collaborating with your team will lessen each debater’s workload and allow you to create a strong case while doing an equal amount of work. 

Team collaboration can also help increase the bond between your teammates and create friendships! Forming friendships is always super fun and can also help solve this issue by creating an environment where your teammates feel safe enough to ask for help and questions. This way, instead of not doing the work, your teammates will come to you to ask about any questions they have. You can also turn to them and ask them to improve on something if you need it. 

If this issue worsens even after you have tried these methods, consider speaking to your coach or teacher. Let him or her know that there is more work being done by yourself and that you would like your teammates to help more. Your coach or teacher can ask them to put in more of an effort or change the arrangement of teams. 

In conclusion, teamwork is a tricky thing but it is all about communication. Whether it is working and speaking to your teammate directly about it or asking your coach or teacher, it is crucial that you talk to someone. I hope that after this you are able to speak to someone and maybe the work will become easier. Good luck!



Tips and Tricks – December Tournament

The Orange County Debate League is so excited to be hosting the Holiday Tournament on December 5th! Although virtual tournaments may still be a little unfamiliar, they offer a valuable learning opportunity for everyone. These tips and tricks take into account some lessons from the Scramble, so we hope that they will create the best debating environment for the upcoming tournament.

Tip 1: Heckle clearly

To accommodate for the delay in some of Zoom’s features, please make sure to unmute yourself, wait a second before speaking, and then heckle. Additionally, you can try heckling in your debate practices and ask your friends if they can hear you. Heckles are often drowned out by the other speaker’s voice, so practicing beforehand is the best way to ensure that your opponents and judge will be able to understand your point. Don’t let muffled heckles cause any confusion during your rounds on the day of the actual tournament!

Tip 2: Become familiar with Zoom

Since many tournaments will likely be online for the remainder this school year, it will greatly benefit you to have some basic knowledge of how Zoom works. If you attended the Scramble in October, you can review the concepts that may have been confusing or new for you during that tournament. Reach out to your coach, your parents, or the Internet to better understand video calls through Zoom to make sure that you know how to join meetings, join breakout rooms, and navigate the control panel to unmute and turn your camera on. 

It’s also very helpful to keep a document with important Zoom codes so that you can keep track of links to various calls. This will help you stay organized, especially if the tournament is held on multiple Zoom calls.

Tip 3: Be patient!

This form of debate is new to everyone, and your judges and coaches are all working to make the transition online as smooth as possible. If technical difficulties arise, however, please do not let yourself be thrown off. Tournament day is supposed to be fun, and the only way to make the most out of your debating experience is to be flexible.

Although we wish that we could be debating in person, online tournaments offer their own unique experience in that we are able to stay safe while continuing to participate in an amazing educational activity. The OCDL looks forward to seeing you soon!

Alumni Spotlight: Shreya Chitoori

This past week, I had the pleasure of speaking to one of Orange County Debate League’s Alumni, Shreya Chitoori.  Shreya just graduated from Sage Hill High School and is currently a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is studying Molecular and Cellular Biology on the Pre-Med track. 

She started competing in OCDL during her seventh grade year and continued into her eighth as well. Over the course of the two years, she developed skills in public speaking and debate and earned six speaker awards and seven team awards in OCDL tournaments. In her 8th grade, she traveled to New Orleans with the OCDL and placed as 4th speaker. 

When asked why her passion for debate started, she responded, “OCDL got me out of my comfort zone. The format of POI’s helped me think on my feet and also elevated my general knowledge. I really like how helpful everyone is. [The] OCDL is a tight-knit community that helps each other.” 

In high school, Shreya helped OCDL’s board run tabulations during tournaments. She also started exploring new formats of debate. She found that she liked the World Schools debate format, which is a format that combines prepared topics with impromptu topics. Through this format, she earned over 25 speaker awards over four years and also won second place team at the highly reputable Harvard Westlake tournament. 

Shreya’s biggest achievement in debate was being the director of competition at her high school where she organized the first ever international tournament hosted by Sage Hill. 

When asked if she was always a public speaker, Shreya responded, “Definitely not. Actually, I was very shy before I joined OCDL. Debate really shaped my personality, and I really think everyone should join debate regardless if they are shy or not. They will just fall in love with it. OCDL really is a stepping stool for success in high school and even college. It really opened many doors for me, and I don’t think I would be the same without the skills I learned in the league.” She now is part of the debate club at Berkeley.

Outside of debate, she loves to golf and play piano, and she is also now a member of the Alpha Phi Sorority at Berkeley. Her biggest recommendation to all OCDL debaters and students is to “[j]ust do debate. Period. I promise you, you will love the sport, as well as the community, and the friends you make and the skills you learn will be carried on with you even after OCDL.”

Reflection: My experience teaching at the first virtual debate workshop

Saturday, September 19th marked the first-ever Orange County Debate League (OCDL) digital workshop. Students, teachers, and coaches came together for a day of fun and engaging classes. 

In addition to preparing students for the coming season, this yearly event helps raise funds for the OCDL program, its tournaments, and other league-related activities. 

However, this year, health concerns and COVID-19 guidelines forced the league to change to an online format using the Zoom Meetings application. Teachers like me were asked to make personal Zoom accounts and send the login information, ID, and passcode, to OCDL Treasurer Ben Hughes. 

The day consisted of three blocks, separated by quick breaks. Students were given the login information for all the classes they signed up for and could join during the corresponding block. 

As a junior in high school, I have attended three workshops as a student and have taught at the last four, so I am considerably familiar with the usual format. Nevertheless, this time things were very different. 

On the positive side, it was less nerve-racking since I was teaching from the comfort of my room and did not have to stand in front of a class full of students. 

On the other hand, the changes made me quite nervous because I did not know what to expect. I was worried that I would not be engaging enough or confusing the students because, as any student or teacher will tell you, distance learning is a whole other beast. There was also the concern over students keeping their mics and cameras off the entire time, making it nearly impossible to create a dialogue with the students. 

Usually, I would be able to gauge how well the students were understanding the material based on their facial expressions. This helped inform the speed at which I would deliver the information. But the limitations of online learning made this impossible. 

Thankfully, I predicted that such problems would occur and prepared accordingly. For example, I made it clear to the students at the beginning of class that they would need to turn their cameras and mics on if they want to get the most out of the class. I also gave the students my email so they could ask me any questions if they were too shy to ask me during class. Such strategies made the virtual learning environment a little more genuine for both my students and me. 

Ultimately, I would say that this experience taught me a lot about effectively communicating my ideas even when my audience is not physically in front of me. At least if we are still forced to be online for the next workshop, I will know how to better handle the situation.