Guidance on Which Divisions to enter your High School students in for tournaments

There’s a helpful section of our Guidelines, which our Coaches’ Council helps us update to create our tournament and competition rules, that explains our new policy on what divisions your students may compete in.

The short version is that coaches can now decide where their students belong since you know your students best. If they are debating in the same division as last year (say Novice), they have to move up to the next division once they have finished among the top 3 teams more than once this year. The Rookie Division is available for new schools as the easiest access point – for your debaters who join later in the year or for your debaters who need to stay in a more scaffolded, accessible, supportive and competitive environment with very restricted argument limits for longer due to confidence or other learning challenges.

In order of challenge and experience (low to high), our divisions are:

  • Rookie
  • Novice
  • Junior Varsity
  • Varsity

Here’s the relevant section of the Guidelines:

2.2 Divisions

Coaches can elect to place their students in the appropriate division for their level of academic preparation and debate experience. There are recommendations below for the appropriate experience level for division placement – if a student is debating in a less-experienced division AFTER their recommended experience level has been passed, AND has placed in the top 3 teams at two tournaments in that less-experienced division, they MUST move up to the next-highest division to preserve the competitive integrity of that division for less-experienced debaters who can be intimidated by debating more experienced competitors.


Chicago Debates Tournaments include three to four divisions: Rookie, Novice, Junior Varsity and Varsity at most tournaments. At tournaments where Blue or Silver Conference are present, the Chicago Debates will have up to four divisions: Rookie, Novice, Junior Varsity (JV), and Varsity (V).  There are some tournaments where Chicago Debates may offer a Rookie Division, a Division just below the Novice Division intended for brand-new debaters starting later in the year or for students who have unique learning or preparation challenges. 


The Novice Division (or Rookie Division, when available) is intended for debaters engaging in their first year of high school debate, but debaters with previous experience and confidence in the basics of debate typically do not belong in Novice (or Rookie) unless there is a compelling academic reason they need more time debating with first-year debaters to aid their learning. The Junior Varsity is intended for debaters with one year of previous high school debate or two years of middle school debate. The Varsity Division is intended for students with more than one year of high school debate. At tournaments that have both a Junior Varsity and Varsity Division, the Junior Varsity Division is intended for debaters engaging in their second year of debate with one year of previous high school debate or two years of middle school debate, and the Varsity Division is intended for students with two or more years of previous high school debate.


Novice or Junior Varsity debaters may enter the Junior Varsity or Varsity Division in a tournament for more rigorous debate without losing their Novice or JV eligibility. 


If there are fewer than 12 teams in either the JV or Varsity division, they will be combined into one competing division. In elimination rounds and at the award ceremony, Chicago Debates will award the divisions separately.

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