Young minds dazzle at National Debating Championships in St. John's

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Young minds dazzle at National Debating Championships in St. John's

Young minds dazzle at National Debating Championships in St. John's

Some of the brightest students in the country put their intellect to the test this weekend in St. John's, as Holy Heart of Mary High School hosted the National Debating Championships.

While teams came from all over Canada, the first round of the tournament had a very historic Newfoundland theme.

Teams had to debate whether the Battle of Beaumont Hamel was crucial in the formation of the nation of Newfoundland and Labrador.

While it was a learning experience for most of the students from outside the province, a team from Halifax had a leg up.

"The Battle of Beaumont Hamel has always been very important to me," said Gabriel Duguay, a student at Halifax Grammar School.

In 2015, Duguay — a history buff and avid reader — won a Vimy Beaverbrook prize to travel to Northern France and learn about key events in the First World War. As part of that trip, he stood at the Trail of the Caribou monument at Beaumont Hamel.

On Friday, Duguay and all the other competitors spent the day at The Rooms in St. John's, exploring the First World War exhibit and preparing for the first round.

For Duguay, it brought back to life the memories of seeing the fields of Northern France first-hand.

"Debating about the importance of Beaumont Hamel taught me so much about Newfoundland history," he said. "It was so great to learn more about such an inspirational visit that I had."

Duguay, along with his partner Matthew Farrell, rode a hot streak through five rounds of the competition and into the grand final round, where they lost to a team from Alberta.

The tournament was split into French and English divisions, with six rounds of debating set aside for each.

The prompts for the first two rounds were prepared ahead of time, but after that, teams were left to argue on the fly.

"It's all impromptu and we get 15 minutes to prepare our side," said Henry La Prairie, the self-professed "hometown hero" from Holy Heart's French team.

The topics ranged from financial contributions in political campaigns to the jury selection process in Canada.

"Someone wins a debate by having a very clear argument," said Victoria Young, of Manitoba. "By sign-posting clearly what they are going to be talking about in their speech and … really clearly stating what you are trying to prove."

And sometimes, you may know next to nothing about what you trying to prove.

"I don't know very much about very much," said Farrell, passing all the credit to his partner. "I'm the pretty one … I make the jokes."