Debate prepares for national tournaments

Travis Perry

With many of the top debaters in the country and a national title within reach, the Washburn debate squad has two tournaments left to leave their mark on the 2007 season.

Placing in the top three in every competition they’ve participated in, Washburn debaters have shown amazing prowess and skill, said Kevin O’Leary, director of forensics. Fighting head-to-head with reining champions Western Kentucky University every step of the way, O’Leary said the desire to beat them has been a major driving force behind the team this year.

With over a dozen squad members, both O’Leary and Jim Schnoebelen, assistant director of forensics, said Washburn is unusually large for a debate team. While this has been a hindrance in limiting the number of tournaments the team can attend because of the cost of travel, it has given them an advantage many other teams don’t have.

“We use our size to out-research any other squad, including Western Kentucky,” said O’Leary. “We’re the one’s that are running the cutting-edge arguments.”

And while their current size may seem large now, O’Leary said they would only continue to grow, as they have a recruiting class of more than 10 students. This will push the squad to between 25 and 30 members next year.

O’Leary added because of their size, within the first round or two of every tournament almost every opponent has been seen by somebody from the Washburn team, giving them a better idea of who is running what and develop a strategy against it.

“One of the things that we stress here is adaptation to judges,” said Schnoebelen. “All the students have to be able to adapt to different perspectives.”

The independent work ethic that the coaches have worked to instill in every member of the team has really shown through, said O’Leary. While they are there to help guide the debaters as they develop strategies for each round, O’Leary said that for the most part students prepare and research individually.

While the topic for parliamentary debate changes with every round, some of the subjects covered include Iraq, the Iraq War, North Korea, democratic control of congress and the Iranian Nuclear Program. Housing three parliamentary debate pairs ranked in the top 50 in the nation, it’s no wonder how Washburn has managed the kind of success they have achieved this season.

O’Leary said Washburn has placed strongly in national tournaments the last several years, and that each season is a building process on the previous year.