Burnaby Mountain debaters finish fifth in international competition

Jamal Dumas and Grace Jin finished fifth out of 64 teams at the International Competition for Young Debaters held at Oxford University - Contributed photo
Jamal Dumas and Grace Jin finished fifth out of 64 teams at the International Competition for Young Debaters held at Oxford University
— image credit: Contributed photo

Two debaters from Burnaby Mountain secondary returned home recently from the U.K. with more feathers in their caps.

Jamal Dumas and Grace Jin finished fifth out of 64 teams at the International Competition for Young Debaters held at Oxford University, said their coach, Frankie Cena. They missed making the final four by one point.

Dumas was also ranked fifth out of 127 participating speakers at the tournament.

The Grade 10 students qualified for the tournament after they were named Canadian junior debating champions while competing against older students at the Queen's National High School Debating Championships held at Queen's University last February.

Cena, who coached the pair via Skype and texting, said the Oxford finish was particularly impressive as Jin only joined the school debating club last September.

For Dumas, 15, who has been debating since Grade 8, the Oxford tournament was just the latest in a year of debating challenges. In late September, at Cena's urging, he entered a B.C. qualifier to try out for the national team in Toronto, finishing second.

While he didn't make it onto Team Canada, the experience motivated him to compete at ever higher levels. "I think that one tournament really changed the year around for me."

In addition to the Queen's competition, Dumas also won first place at the Law Week speech contest in April, competing against students in grades 10 to 12 from across the province. He took home the Barry Sullivan Law Cup and $1,500 which helped pay for his Oxford trip.

Debating combines two of his greatest passions—knowledge of current events and politics and "yelling at people in an uninhibited fashion," Dumas said with a laugh.

The tournament in Oxford was a great opportunity, competing against students from mainly European countries and observing their unique styles, and being judged and offered feedback by top-level debaters from Oxford University.

Dumas said the pair never would have imagined being at Oxford at the start of the school year, particularly with Jin just starting out as a debater.

"I think even though we didn't win I think that was the ultimate kind of win, how we just came along and improved our own debating styles and gave it our best shot."

Next up for Dumas is the Heart of Europe international debating tournament in the Czech Republic this summer, and trying out again for Team Canada next year.

He noted that a desire to improve to make the national team is what pushed him to pursue the championships at Queen's University in the first place.

As for his future after high school, Dumas says he's thinking of going into law to pursue his passion for debating.

"I think that law is just debating you get paid to do."

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