Behind the Scenes at Big Bronx: Bronx Science’s Very Own Debate Tournament

All 444 members of Bronx Science’s Speech and Debate Team pitch in to help during this once-a-year tournament that hosts the best high school debaters in the national circuit.


Claire Elkin

Despite the hard work that comes with volunteering at the Big Bronx Debate tournament, Bronx team members (and parents) always had a smile on their faces!

From Watergate and political upheavals to bell bottoms and disco, the 1970s were certainly a time to remember. Amidst this frenzy of a time, The Bronx High School of Science began to host what is now one of the most celebrated debate tournaments, later to reverently be referred to as “Big Bronx.” 52 years later, times have without a doubt changed, and though tie-dye shirts and peasant blouses are far from trending, Big Bronx has stayed strong, even through three years of remote competition, due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

The New York City Invitational Speech and Debate Tournament, otherwise known as Big Bronx, was a three day event hosted during the weekend of October 14th, 2022. Students from all over the country, and even the world, with competitors from as far away as Thailand and the Caribbean, traveled to The Bronx High School of Science to debate in person, once again, this year. For many debaters, this was the first time competing in person since the onset of the pandemic.

Ever since its inception, Big Bronx has been one of the most hospitable tournaments in the debate circuit. It is the largest New York tournament and the only national event hosted by a high school. As the number one Speech and Debate team in the country, and one of the most populous, Bronx Science has quite the reputation to uphold, and taking on a tournament this large as a public high school is no small feat.

Despite these obstacles, the school never fails to host a spectacular tournament every year. Sarayu Cheemalapati ‘23, a Congressional debater from Council Rock High School North in Pennsylvania concurs. He said, “Bronx Science is the number one debate team in the country, and it does hold a lot of reputation in regards to the value of the debaters. This tournament upholds that level of prestige, but also a level of kindness.” Cheemalapati was the only visitor who saw Big Bronx as a welcoming, amicable environment in which to compete. Spencer Abrams from Byram Hills High School in Armonk said, “Everyone is telling me where to go, and where the rooms are. It’s a really nice change from a lot of national tournaments. They did a good job.”

However, this Big Bronx Debate tournament was different from its predecessors. After three years of virtual debate, the Speech and Debate student leadership only had a handful of members that had previously experienced in-person Big Bronx during their ninth grade year. The few seniors who had attended that tournament four years prior were novice debaters at the time and consequently were not extensively involved in the event. The circuit was turned upside down with COVID-19, and the solution of virtual debate during those years was far from ideal. At last, debate is now fully back in person. While this is great news for competitors, it certainly brings some challenges for tournament hosts, who now have much more work on their hands.

Despite the unique hindrances that came with hosting this year, Bronx Speech and Debate leadership has nothing but positivity to share. Mr. Timothy Huth, Faculty Advisor and Director of the team, described the situation. “Every year has a unique challenge, and I think that this year we will have to come together as a team and really understand that we have to do this together,” Huth said. Mr. Huth and Ms. Cooper, the Assistant Principal of Organization at Bronx Science, both emphasize an idea that comes up time and time again in Bronx Science’s Speech and Debate team — student-taught debate. In the past, older leadership would teach new leaders how to help run the tournament, but this year there is a much larger learning curve. “There will certainly be growth and learning for everyone,” said Mr. Huth before the tournament, “but we are ready, and we will be prepared. I know that we will do as we do every year and do a fantastic job.” It would not be surprising if Mr. Huth was acting more confident than he felt at this moment. After all, there were many obstructions facing him and the team regarding this event. Nevertheless, the October 2022 Big Bronx Debate tournament was, without a doubt, a booming success.

The Bronx Science Debate Team was told to reserve the weekend of October 14th, 2022 on their calendars back in August 2022. The participation of the entire team is crucial to the success of the event, and it is definitely not taken lightly. All members of the team are required to volunteer at Big Bronx, as a way to give back to the larger debate community.

Upon entering the building on Friday, October 14th, 2022, it was clear that the day was different from the rest. The bright green attire worn by all members of the Speech and Debate team was hard to miss, and the clear excitement on all of their faces was even more striking. As the 9th period bell rang, instead of leaving the building with the rest of their peers, team members rushed down to the cafeteria, eagerly awaiting Mr. Huth’s instructions. Team members certainly had a long evening ahead of them, but the energy with Bronx Science was nothing if not enthusiastic.

Despite the many unknowns that came with hosting and volunteering, Bronx Science team members engaged deeply with their tasks and were quick to help competitors with any requests, large or small. When asked what he will take away from the tournament, Nicholas Strum, a junior from Regis High School in New York, said, “I think we will remember the general hospitality of everyone. Everyone is just nice and very helpful. It’s great.”

Team volunteers were quick to answer any questions presented by judges and competitors alike. (Claire Elkin)

With a current team roster of 444 Bronx Science Speech & Debate members, all of whom were present on Saturday, October 15th, 2022, to volunteer,  structure was essential to ensure that the tournament ran smoothly. Volunteers were divided amongst six groups: members serving food, selling concessions, running the judges’ lounge, judge registration, student registration, and ensuring competitors were all in their rooms during rounds. All of these groups were there to answer the questions of visitors and ensure they were having the most enjoyable experience possible. While this may seem like overkill, it is anything but. Without Student Registration, there would be no one to keep track of when volunteers were coming and going. By selling concessions, Big Bronx is able to raise money to host more tournaments in the future. The Judges’ lounge ensures that our judges are content, and Room Directors make sure that all rounds are on schedule and underway. However, the crown jewel of Big Bronx, distinguishing it from all other tournaments on the circuit, is our food, otherwise known as the hospitality section.

At any time during the three-day tournament, the Bronx Science cafeteria was the place to be. The energy in the room is high, with a combination of nerves and excitement, so visitors seem to always be drawn to the area. You can find competitors prepping, talking, and, of course, eating. There was far from a shortage of food at Big Bronx, and our competitors raved about the meals served. Debaters on the circuit realized how unique and special this was. At many national tournaments, the food is scarce, and where you can find it, it’s far from affordable. If the kindness of Bronx students was not what was taken away from this tournament, then it was certainly the memories of the food served.

As well as volunteering during the tournament, the team requires each member to bring in two trays of food, most of which is home cooked, fresh, and tasty. “Our food is unique across the speech and debate circuit. It’s free. It’s plentiful. And it’s absolutely delicious,” said Mr. Huth. “Our Bronx Science families really do cook, and I think that, just from a cuisine standpoint, it truly represents the diversity of our team.” Mr. Huth is certainly right on that last point. Spanakopita, jollof rice, steamed buns, and falafel were just a few of the many options competitors saw as they walked through a typical lunch buffet at Big Bronxand the school could not have gotten a more positive response.

When asked what he would remember most about the tournament, Ella Wu, a senior at Stuyvesant High School, responded, without hesitation, “My favorite part is the free food. Not many tournaments do that, and I think it’s really cool to do this potluck thing where everyone brings in food.” It certainly is cool, and adds just another unique aspect to Big Bronx that makes competitors look forward to trekking to Bedford Park every year.

With its tranquil music and surplus of delicious food, the Judge’s Lounge was a great escape for judges if they wanted a quiet respite. Bronx Science volunteers were stationed at the buffet to make sure our judges would also have an opportunity to try the delicious food supplied by Bronx Science families. (Claire Elkin)

The goal of Big Bronx this year was to remind the Speech and Debate Circuit what in-person speech and debate should look like, and it did exactly that. After over 50 years, it takes a truly special event and dedicated team to maintain a tournament this large and unique. Every member of the Bronx Science speech and debate team should be applauded for their work that weekend,  and competitors from all over look forward to returning next year.

“Every year has a unique challenge, and I think that this year we will have to come together as a team and really understand that we have to do this together,” said Mr. Timothy Huth, Faculty Advisor and Director of the Bronx Science Speech & Debate team.