Archive for Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It’s not debatable; they’re champs

Jayhawk team grabs first-place ranking after stellar year

April 25, 2006


They speak their own language - a stream of words falling from their lips like water.

"You gradually get faster and faster and faster until you reach the point of: as fast as you possibly can talk," Matt Cormack said. "Everyone else in the room will know what's going on, but an outsider probably wouldn't."

Cormack, a Kansas University senior, is among the squad of students who showed their prowess in the speed-talking art of debate this year. The KU team finished the season ranked first nationally for the points earned in competitions, based on National Debate Tournament varsity rankings.

"As a squad, we had probably the best season you can have," said Nate Johnson, a junior.

The debaters placed 19th overall in the 2006 National Debate Tournament. KU coach Scott Harris won the George Ziegelmueller Award for excellence in coaching and teaching debate.

Competitive debate at the college level differs from a presidential debate that many see on television. In the debate KU students participate in, the students do extensive research on a topic ahead of time, and walk into the competition with briefcases of documents - known as "evidence," usually scoured from newspapers, magazines and other sources - read during short speeches and cross-examinations. At tournaments, two teams of two debaters go head-to-head. They talk fast to get in as much information as they can into their time.

Debater Andrew Jennings said the successful season boosted the school's reputation in the debate circles.

"I think this year showed that we'll be a force to reckon with in the future," said Jennings, a sophomore.

Cormack said KU debaters had a reputation for being hard workers. They don't necessarily come from areas and high schools where debate gets a lot of recognition, he said, but they emerge from below the radar and show that innovation, effort and skill can kick the competition.

Devising innovative arguments can be risky, he said, but it can be worth it to catch the opponents off-guard.

"The surprise can be beneficial," he said. "You can get people to think on their feet."

The debaters often pull all-nighters, gathering research and scouring the Internet for the latest updates on their debate subject. The topic this year was U.S.-China relations.

They traveled regularly throughout the year, with trips to Boston, Atlanta, Dallas and Chicago.

Several debaters said they're in it for the camaraderie and the adrenaline rush of winning. But the competition can be fierce.

"It takes so much research and so much effort that you always want to be ahead of your opponent," Cormack said. "You never want to be caught without something to say."

Far from being at a loss for words, the debaters try to cram in as much argument as they can. The result is arguments too fast for the untrained ear to understand.

Lindsey Lathrop, a junior, said her parents only pick up a few words from her debates. They might recognize, for example, that she said something about airplanes. But that's it.

"If you're from the outside, it's bizarre," she said.


Nate Poell 12 years ago

I had no idea the debate team was such a powerhouse this year. Congratulations to them!

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