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The Globe and Mail

B.C. debating star cut out of national competition

Oak Bay High School student Sarah Broitman is denied a chance to go to a national debate because of a membership fee mix-up.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Globe and Mail

A 17-year-old competitive debater from Victoria says she has been cut off from an earned slot in national competition because her school failed to pay a membership fee in a regional debating association.

Sarah Broitman, 17, says she would relish the chance to debate the issue – "I like a good fight" – but has been denied the opportunity by the regional Debate and Speech Association of British Columbia, which hosts debate tournaments.

The student at Oak Bay High School says she and her debating partner, Rory Hills, earned a slot in national debates set for April 11-13 in Winnipeg with their fifth-place performance in a competition in late February and early March. The competition included a planned debate on whether globalization has done more harm than good, plus impromptu debates on whether parents should be allowed to choose the gender of their child before birth, whether stability is preferable to democracy and whether to abolish the Senate.

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However, on March 8, Ms. Broitman says she got an e-mail from her debate coach, telling her the DSABC had concluded the school did not pay its association membership fee of about $100 so cannot proceed to national competition. "However, he believes that he did, in fact," she said. In any event, she said the DSABC will not let the pair compete.

"I was crying quite a bit. My mom had to calm me down," she said. "Somebody made a mistake and the blame is being pushed back and forth, but in the end I am the only one being punished instead of whoever the culprit was." She said she feels "bullied and marginalized" by all of the adults involved in the matter.

Sarah Broitman, a 17-year-old competitive debater from Victoria, says she has been cut off from an earned slot in national competition because her school failed to pay a membership fee in a regional debating association. (Full story here.)


Ms. Broitman is trying to get her shot, posting a video on YouTube in which she lays out the situation, and seeks a chance to debate the issue with the DSABC.

The DSABC has declined detailed comment on the situation. In an e-mailed response to questions from The Globe and Mail, a spokesman said the organization is "waiting for documentation" from Oak Bay High School that "demonstrates their membership was in process." The statement said that upon receiving that documentation, "a final decision will be made."

The Victoria School Board referred questions about the matter to the school principal, who did not answer requests for comment.

In an e-mail to Ms. Broitman, DSABC president Lindsay Spencer said she has watched the YouTube video. "There is quite a lot of misunderstanding around the circumstances that led to this situation," she said. Ms. Spencer writes the DSABC executive has asked Ms. Broitman's debate coach to produce documentation that payment was in process through a cheque or request form. "We are awaiting such documentation."

Ms. Broitman said the organization has yet to present itself for a dialogue on the situation. In any debate, Ms. Broitman said, "it's not over until both parties speak."

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"They're not looking for a discussion," she said. "I think they believe they're adults and I'm just some public-school kid."

Victoria lawyer Trudi Brown's firm have been financial sponsors of the Oak Bay High School debaters. "We have followed their success eagerly. It is truly unfortunate that kids who have worked so hard cannot even get a chance to participate through no fault of their own," Ms. Brown said in an e-mail exchange.

Ms. Brown said she found Ms. Broitman's YouTube presentation impressive. "The [national] competition will be much less without that talent."

As it happens, Ms. Broitman wants to study law. She said she was inspired last year to get into debating by the example of her mother, who debated as a high-school student. "I'm a pretty opinionated person," she said. "I decided to give it a go and I fell in love with it."

She said she has learned that winning a competition is a mix of points and presentation. And she is not giving up on this dispute. "I'm a debater," she said. "We're stubborn."

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