During the first weekend of March, the town of La Vernia’s population was virtually doubled overnight. A sea of students had rolled in wearing their finest only, ready to recite, discuss, and of course, debate. The debate team was among this mass of competitors, game faces on and ready to give the tournament their all.

La Vernia, population 1,409, was treated to a major shock when the influx participating schools of the 2018 TFA state debate tournament arrived in town. The competition, put on by the Texas Forensic Association, is one of the largest gatherings of debate students in Texas, and every team that participates must qualify in a higher-level tournament prior to the state event.

“It’s very, very, very hard,” sophomore Jane Unger said. “It’s the best of the best that you’re competing against and you might do well in local tournaments, but once you go to TFA state you’re going to be very surprised at the results.”

TFA state debate doubled as a new experience for most of the DSHS students competing. The scale of the competition was at an entirely different level compared to the other tournaments they’ve participated in.

“There are hundreds of more people, and it’s people you’ve never seen before,” sophomore Campbell Melton said. “You don’t really know who you’re debating or what you’re up against.”

Due to the large number of students competing, La Vernia High School had a shortage of rooms for events to take place. In addition to the high school, La Vernia intermediate, middle, and both elementary schools were used to host events.

“Some people competed in kindergarten rooms,” Unger said. “Just imagine a senior and a junior debating against each other in suits and ties sitting in tiny chairs with computers.”

In addition to the enormity of the competition, the skill level of competing teams was much higher than the participants of past tournaments. As this was a state-level competition, every team in attendance was expected to perform to the best of their ability, though that made for much tougher competition in the eyes of the competing students of the DSHS debate team.

“I would go to local tournaments and kill everyone,” junior Mason Mohon said. “Then we go to TFA state and everybody kills us.”

The competition schedule also added to the tense air of the tournament. Waking up between four and five am to arrive on time, the team competed throughout the full day, finally leaving La Vernia at midnight.

“Everyone’s half-asleep, and then the first event starts, everybody goes, and then basically everyone’s gone for the rest of the day,” Melton said. “You pop in, grab food, run away, and go do the rest of your event. At the end we all reconvene to cheer each other on and wait for awards.”

Overall, TFA state debate was a whirlwind for everyone involved. The difficulty of the tournament proved to be a challenge for the students, along with most of the other participants.

“I was one point away from advancing,” Unger said. “I would describe TFA debate as different.”

However, TFA debate isn’t the last stop for the team this year. With district, region, and state UIL coming up, the debate students still have a multitude of opportunities to take the win for DSHS.

“I’m going straight to UIL state for my event,” junior Qasim Aziz said. “Public Forum Debate.”

Written by Katie Haberman