News Release Date:
Friday, Apr 10, 2009


Policy debate team

Whitman College’s debate team has added even more polish to its distinguished reputation with recent accomplishments such as dominating the Northwest championship tournaments, winning both — the Northwest Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) Championship and the Northwest Junior Varsity Championship.

But it doesn’t stop there. Whitman had a total of 10 teams – more teams than any other school in the nation – in the elimination rounds of the nation’s four top debating tournaments. And this in the face of being an exceptionally young team populated heavily with first-year and sophomore members, says Jim Hanson, professor of forensics and the team’s coach.

And the list of accomplishments goes on:

Whitman had five teams in the elimination rounds of the prestigious CEDA National Championship – more than Harvard, Kansas, Emory, California-Berkeley, Wake Forest, and every other powerhouse debate school in the nation.


Parliamentary Debate team


And there’s more: At the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) National Championship, Nick Griffin ’11 and Chris Fleming ’11 placed an impressive 17th.

At the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE), Fleming with another partner, Paul Wyatt ’12, took 16th place, stunning the debating community because they are such a young team.

Stunned also is long-time Coach Hanson about the major accomplishments of a 30-member team that’s so young: “They are excelling at a level that we wouldn’t expect until they were juniors or seniors.”

Hanson, who has taught at Whitman since 1992, said he considers this team of “youngsters” to be one of the top three squads he has coached and marvels at what the team might be able to accomplish in the future “if we’re doing this well already.”

On top of that, the team members are “very nice, responsible, hard-working and fun – a really good group.”

And unmatched, it would seem, in perseverance.

Debate team member Allison Humble ’12 had suffered a concussion about a month prior to the CEDA National Championship. Still recovering from that, she was experiencing headaches and dizziness at the championship, but requested, and was allowed by judges, to continue on.

Hanson said that at times Humble would have to lie down during the debate and her partner, Lewis Silver ’10, would take over debating for her while she rested.

Hanson said the hours the debate students put in from August through March to prepare for the tournaments would seem “almost incomprehensive for most people.”

He said policy debaters, who focus on one topic each debate season – this season it was the question of whether agricultural subsidies should be eliminated – spend 10 to 40 hours per week researching at a master’s and doctoral level and preparing so they can respond, provide quotations, to literally any and every possible argument proposed by opponents.

Parliamentary debaters, who face new topics each debate, need a breadth of knowledge and an ever-deepening understanding of debate theory, argument strategies. They spend about eight to 15 hours a week preparing, Hanson said.

The time spent seems to be well-spent for other reasons, too: Those involved in debate typically have a grade point average that is “.3 higher than the rest of the school,” Hanson said.

“Debate teaches you how to go through voluminous amounts of information very quickly,” he said.

Most team members are very efficient, they “manage their time well,” he said.

And that led to, once again, a season that was well done.

– Virginia Grantier