Holy Cross debate team example of holistic approach
Byron Arthur, director of Holy Cross School’s debate team and an AP teacher, often hears from others how well-behaved his debate team members are. Not only does he expect top-notch performance from his team, but members know that they represent a school that upholds a strong tradition established by Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Holy Cross religious order.
“I live my life on the model of Christ. I strive for academic excellence, to be respectful and courteous and have a desire to do better, always a level of growing and developing academically and spiritually,” junior Roshan Sadhwani, debate team chairman, said. He said he strives to reinforce the high standards required of Holy Cross students to his 30-plus-member team.
The debate team, which Arthur traced back in Holy Cross’ history to 1944, has enjoyed remarkable success since its revival four years ago. Arthur – a former Holy Cross debater himself, a lawyer and former Jesuit High debate team coach – re-formed the debate team in 2011 when he joined the faculty and renewed the original name, the Brother Aiden O’Reilly Debate Society.
Built on diligence
That first year, Arthur said he began laying the foundation for the current program with six dedicated members and the backing of school headmaster Charles DiGange and principal Dr. Joseph Murry.
“We took a lot of lumps at that first competition,” Arthur said. But team members were hooked, and, by their second tournament, they made a third-place finish in public forum debate. “That started a nice stream of successes that year,” and by the end of the season, all members qualified for the national forensics league tournament.
By 2012, the team had won a tournament at St. Augustine High School, which not only received attention in local debating circles but also encouraged members to work hard to achieve higher goals.
In its third year, Arthur said Holy Cross’ debate team was victorious at the city championship. By last season, the team won the New Orleans Catholic forensics League tournament at Archbishop Chapelle. Holy Cross has hosted regional tournaments and competed at national invitational tournaments. This year’s tournament will be at Holy Cross March 11-12.
“We’ve been blessed that we’ve had success here locally and enjoy competing,” Arthur said. “It’s a great league for us.”
For its performance at the local, regional and national levels, the Holy Cross Debate Team was invited into membership of the prestigious Barkley Forum at Emory University in 2015. It is one of only 248 teams invited since the forum began in 1959, Arthur said.
“It’s one of the toughest competitive tournaments of the season,” Sadhwani said. “When you look at the debaters who compete, they are in the top 10 nationwide.”
Murry received the national principal’s award at the Barkley Forum. Arthur nominated him.
“I feel like Dr. Murry is an everyday partner with me in the growth of this program. It wouldn’t be where it is without him or the blessing of Charles DiGange.”
Sadhwani, who this season reached the elimination round in the Barkley Forum Lincoln Douglas Debate, had also won the city’s public forum debate championship. He enjoys the intellectual rigor and critical-thinking skills in debate.
“I can engage in an intellectual discussion with others,” he said.
He stressed debate’s high level of preparation to research, write arguments, persuade judges and be prepared for what opponents might say. He attributes being a better student to the skills he’s learned in debating.
“It’s definitely helped me as a student, especially in note taking. Typically at a debate, we speak at a fast pace, so it becomes easier to do that (take notes),” and for time management and homework completion.
Reviving the debate team was part of a five-year plan after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the school’s campus. When the plan was devised in 2011, it meant to restore Holy Cross to its full potential – to be a school that developed the whole man, DiGange, a ’64 alumnus, said.
“Debate is a major part of who we are as an institution,” DiGange said. “Father Moreau’s philosophy of education was you educate the entire person: mind, body, heart and soul.”
He calls the debate team the embodiment of what the school is doing right and said members offer the hope of how young people will lead our city and country in the future.
“When you see the national competition and the quality of the kids in this program, you realize that our guys are there with them,” Murry said.
Arthur finds it rewarding to be part of the team’s success. He is assisted by Holy Cross teacher Warren Johnson, Chris Vincent, Daniel Williams and former USA Team member Daniel Garrison.