Lose to Win? It’s Debatable

  • 2023
  • Middle School
  • Primary
J Christine Greenberg, Primary And Middle School Principal


If you’ve been at The Harbour School a while, you’ll know we have been the scrappiest of underdogs, grinning and bearing losses longer than I care to remember. 

It’s easier for adults to be rational when losing because we accept this as the price of being a rookie. In our earliest years, we were routinely pitted against other schools with 20, 30, 50 years of experience competing in basketball, rugby, Battle of the books, field hockey... But when having to explain to kids that we lost because it was our first time compared to their thousandth, well, the consolation speech rings hollow because it sucks to lose, especially after you try your hardest and you’re 12.

That’s what makes winning the gold medal on February 18 at the International Parliamentary Debate Competition (IPDC) so sweet and in order to truly savor this triumph, a little context to show the painstaking circumstances that made it so.

Our debate team began in 2019, when our homegrown SISP program saw the opportunity to join the UNSDG debate competitions at a time when a debate team wasn’t a twinkle in anyone’s eye. In fact, most people averted their gaze nervously at its mention: debate team would be great, sure, but who’ll run it? We had to look no further than our Learning Extension coordinator Emilie who rolled up her sleeves with gusto and took charge. Emilie announced a team was forming, accepted and organised interested kids and found rooms and times for everyone to meet. Later joined by coaches Henrik and then Tosin, lunches and snack times often found small groupings of team members with cue cards, speaking, reasoning, laughing, arguing in every corner they could find. They grew from 6 in the first year, to 20 this year, worked their way to local debates with some respectable placements, most notably winning the Regional Ethics Olympiad in November, and earning the right to represent Hong Kong at the Global Ethics Olympiad last Wednesday. 

In the Fall of 2023, the young team was only three years old and with the distinction of being inclusive, which means not by invitation only, they decided to join the IPDC. It would be their first experience with this type of parliamentary style debate, and it would be their first time entering this competition to compete against 50+ schools all over the world. Four team pairings entered- G8: Akshay and Sienna; Henry and Kiran and G5/6: Celine and Zoe; Hugo and Crystal. They practiced for six weeks with strict rules: They would only be told the topics 30 mins before each debate and would not be allowed to use smartphones or the internet to research arguments during that time. The debate had to be extemporaneous and developed purely from reason or logic and the topics were not easy! Some examples- Schools should group students by intelligence, not by age (all four teams had different sides), placing a limit to the amount of wealth a single individual could own, arguing against the motion class presidents should be voted for by students instead of appointed by teachers.

On the weekend of the 17th February, while most of us were chilling outdoors or at home, the teams and their coaches were in the art room of the Grove preparing to log on from 11am to 7pm. After three rounds of debate, each team waited that Saturday night for results to be announced at 8:30PM. The entire room cheered after the two Middle School teams won their rounds and advanced to the Semi-finals. The team went home late that night to be fresh for the next day’s start for the finals where Sienna and Akshay would later argue for the motion that Ai (Chat GPT/Poe) should be allowed in debate competitions. They would go on to win the competition for their school as well as all these other honorable mentions and awards:

  • Sienna and Akshay: Grand Prize (UP Open Division)
    • Sienna: 6 Best Speaker Awards (UP Open Division), including Best Overall, Main and Reply Speaker
  • Kiran and Henry: Semi-Finalists (UP Open Division)
    • Kiran: 3 Best Speaker Awards
  • Hugo, Crystal, Celine, and Zoe: Incredible showing in the Novice Division

This video of the pivotal moment when the winners were announced is a joy to watch, not only because we are so happy for the kids, but because we are elated to finally reach a new summit- underdogs hitting their stride. Goodness, we certainly earned it! It’s been the longest of slogs and throughout, we’ve kept chins up, even making our own trail when needed (among other things, starting a wrestling team back in 2012 when we had only a library and no court or pitch). We reworked our strategy, refined ourselves, and sustained each other when the going was tough. Winning a victory is certainly sweet, but it’s just as powerful an achievement to have lost so many times and garnered all the good qualities that can only come with still forging on. 

Well maybe not as powerful to a twelve year old, but now they won’t hesitate to point out that that’s debatable.

Other wins, special mentions and celebrations this year from our climbing team, cheer team, cross country runners and more can be found here.

All smiles for Hugo, Zoe, Celine, Crystal, Akshay, Henry, Kiran and Sienna

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