Barlow vs. Barlow at Debate Final

The following was written by Randall Smith, debate coach for Joel Barlow High School.

The question of “fracking” has divided our nation just as surely as it splits the earth. And this past Saturday, it has also threatened to open a fissure within Barlow as two pairs of seniors from the Joel Barlow High School debate team faced each other in the final round to determine who would be first the first-place team in varsity debate. Almost 200 students from 19 public, private, and parochial schools assembled at Barlow to compete, and the home team earned the top honors in a rematch between Cooper D'Agostino, Cormac Cummiskey, Brendan Coppinger, and Nicolò Marzaro. This was the second-ever Barlow versus Barlow final, replicating the contest from this past October.

At tournaments, students from the same school do not compete directly against
one another unless two pairs from the same school finish preliminary rounds as the top two seeds in varsity. Intra-school finals are exceedingly rare in the Connecticut Debate Association, but in this instance these pairs had already debated one another at Farmington in the fall, and they regularly spar in an after-school practices, so they were ready to face one another.

The four blazed through their preliminary rounds as never before, with Cummiskey & D'Agostino both earning perfect scores of thirty against Darien in the third round in a performance described as "flawless" on the ballot. Thirties are rare, but for a pair to earn them is almost unheard of. D'Agostino's signature mixture of theatrical delivery and policy wonkery got him the medal for being the third-place varsity speaker.

For their part, Marzaro and Coppinger stayed consistent and steady, crafting and refining their plans for both affirmative and negative in anticipation of tougher competition in the following round. Marzaro, fresh from his decisive victory last month at Loomis-Chaffee that won him an upcoming trip to the World Finals in Durban, South Africa, was consistently good enough this time to earn the second-place varsity speaker award.

The final itself was a clash of titans, seeing the seniors at the top of their game. Brendan Coppinger opened up on the affirmative, saying fracking should be decided on the local level, using an avalanche of historical precedents from Texas and statistics, proving the failure of the EPA to regulate waste from coal and nuclear energy. He also wove in occasional small bits of dry humor that are his trademark. In cross-examination, he was unflappable as Cummiskey and D'Agostino used every possible ploy to get some sort of damaging concession, but none were forthcoming.

Cummiskey then set up the negative position in the following speech, closing his eyes, drawing a deep breath to focus his thoughts. His speech was immaculate debate, cleverly dodging the problems of defending the EPA by arguing the question of fracking would be better handled at the state level, since states have the resources to study and enforce regulations and are less susceptible to corruption by business interests than local governments. He even found time to land jabs at every part of the affirmative case. But the speeches that followed were no less thorough or effective. In fact, all four speakers yielded nothing to the other side in rapid exchanges in cross-examinations and
constructive speeches.

The most remarkable aspect of the debate was the fact that no visible signs of weakness were apparent. Cummiskey was resolute and commanding. D'Agostino was engaging and powerful. Marzaro was so poised and in command of his words that his rebuttal was described by one teacher as "presidential." Hearty applause followed each speech as the debate progressed, displaying the teams at the peak of their powers. It ended with the four embracing one another as friends. And it seems that judges were equally divided, handing a narrow 3-2 decision in favor of D'Agostino and Cummiskey.

It was learned later, that this intra-school final was made possible by a pair of varsity juniors, Tommy Cocco and Daanish Siddiqi, who pulled off a stunning third round upset win against the tournament's top scoring pair, a group from New Caanan. By going undefeated for the second time, Siddiqi and Cocco have earned an invitation to the state finals tournament at the end of next month. Not far behind were varsity sophomores Harrison von Dwingelo and Hunter Lightman, who had a high-scoring 2-1 result for the day.

Other varsity juniors in varsity saw some success. Carl Goldstein got high praise from a judge in round three for impassioned delivery, earning a career-high speaker score. He and his partner Aidan Pryor pulled out a win against Staples in that round. Junior Nicole Peterson and sophomore Sam Aldershof also triumphed in round three against Warde, with Peterson's scores rising. Juniors Brendan O'Connor, David Freeman, Christoph Dow along with sophomore Brooke Curto all picked up wins against Hartford. Seniors Maurizio Viselli and Christian Miljkovic and juniors Hana Malik and Rachel Losacco posted solid varsity speaker scores all day, working hard against difficult opponents.

A large group of first-time sophomore novices also did well. First-time sophomore Keeghan Lucas along with sophomore Michael Lin went undefeated landing in fifth place. Another pair of sophomores, Shawn Burger and her partner, another first-timer, Valerie Boczar, went 2-1, with a remarkably high 154 points, ahead of most of the undefeated teams. Sophomore Nathan Sobel helped his partner, sophomore Ally Watters, get the hang of competition.

The team has three tournaments in March including the state championship tournament in Wilton, where they hope to defend their state title for the third year running.


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