Enough boys in Year Eight volunteer to form three teams, but few people respond from years Ten, Eleven, and Twelve. On Wednesday, during lunch, Ishmael joins Scobie for the Year Nine meeting. Ishmael can’t decide if he wants everybody or nobody to show up. Ignatius Prindabel is the first to show up. Ignatius is an interesting volunteer. He’s smart and memorizes facts and figures, but he refuses to think creatively. Ignatius says he’s here because, according to his mother, he needs more “social interaction skills.”
Ishmael demonstrates his critical thinking skills when he notes Ignatius’s qualities that will be helpful for debating—and his qualities that might make him difficult to work with. It’s humorous when Ignatius says he’s only here because his mom made him come—it makes him look hilariously unengaged. But it also shows that in a sense, he’s a lot like Ishmael: both boys need friendship to help them become better rounded people as they grow.
Next, Orazio Zorzotto—Razza—walks in, making bad jokes as usual. His presence makes sense: he wants to be a politician or a stand-up comic, so he needs the public speaking practice. Razza tells Scobie that he’s in because they’ll be competing against “chick schools.” Moments later, Bill Kingsley comes in asking if this is the first meeting for the chess club. Scobie says it’s debating, and Bill agrees to join. Razza notes that there’s a big difference between chess and debating and asks Bill if aliens took his brain.
Things get even funnier when, with Razza and Bill’s arrival, it starts to look like Scobie is the only person who wants to be in the debating club because he wants to debate. Getting the team to work together toward a common goal starts to look like a tall order. Razza’s teasing of Bill shows that many kids, not just Ishmael, look at Bill as checked-out and too obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy.
Scobie glares at Razza and announces that they’ve all been selected for the Year Nine debating team. Razza leaps up to thank his family, God, and his pets for his success. Scobie continues to glare at Razza as he hands out info sheets with the dates and locations for the first four debates. They have to win three in order to make it to the semifinals. Scobie says he’ll be the coach. They have three weeks to prep for the first debate, and they should all plan to go to the workshop at Moorfield High on Saturday. Ignatius has scouts, and Bill says he’s seeing a Lord of the Rings marathon. Razza brightly says that they’ll win if they ever have to argue that hobbits are less intelligent than dwarves. He says he’ll go if some of the “chick schools” will be there.
As Razza demonstrates, language can just be annoying—and this gives Razza some power, albeit a different kind than someone like Scobie has. Razza’s power is in being able to elicit laughs (from readers, at least) and deploy cutting insults, as when he notes that they’ll win if they ever get a question about fantasy books and movies. The implication, of course, is that they’ll never get such a topic, so they’ll never win. And this frames Bill as a useless member of the team, since according to Razza, fantasy is the only thing Bill knows well.
Scobie says the next meeting will be Tuesday (Razza tells Bill to put it in his commander’s log) and then says that debating is about teamwork. They must work together, help each other, and present a united front. Ishmael stares at his teammates. Razza is circling the girls’ schools on his sheet and is giving them a “Razza Babe Rating.” Ignatius is working on mathematical equations, and Bill is doodling a spaceship. This is going to be great.
At this point, Ishmael agrees with Razza that the team isn’t going to do very well. They don’t seem at all united, especially with Razza constantly insulting Bill. And also recall that Ignatius and Ishmael, at least, don’t actually want to be here. So the team has an uphill climb—before they can possibly win debates, they must figure out how to work with each other first.