WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Led by “National Coach of the Year” Jim Hanson, Whitman College has vaulted back on top in the world of collegiate debate.

In combined sweepstakes scoring for the parliamentary and policy forms of debate, Whitman finished in first place nationally with 23 total points, displacing last year’s top team, the University of California-Berkeley, by three points. Over the past eight years, Whitman and UC-Berkeley have finished in the top spot four times each.

“Most of the top college debate programs tend to excel in one form or the other,” Hanson said. “Whitman is one of the few schools that continues to do well in both parliamentary and policy debate.”

With senior Chris Gorman and junior Scott Thompson setting the pace, Whitman’s parliamentary contingent enjoyed one of its strongest seasons in years, placing second in the sweepstakes scoring behind Point Loma Nazarene University.

Meanwhile, Whitman’s relatively young policy debate group placed 21st nationally in its season-long sweepstakes scoring. “We normally place higher than that in policy debate, but what hurt our point totals this year was the cancellation of three policy tournaments in the Northwest,” Hanson said.

Gorman and Thompson set a new Whitman standard in parliamentary debate by placing second at the elite National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE), held in Berkeley, Calif., in mid-March. Gorman and Thompson lost in the finals to a University of South Carolina duo. The NPTE is limited to the top 48 teams in the country.

Hanson, serving his third year as NPTE president, said Gorman and Thompson “just happened to make a mistake at the wrong time. Prior to the finals, Chris and Scott had not lost a round in the entire tournament.”

For Gorman, a politics major from Woodburn, Ore., this year’s second-place showing marked his third consecutive strong performance at the NPTE. He and Bridget Kustin, now a junior, placed 11th last year. Two years ago, Gorman teamed with graduating senior Nicholas Thomas to place 10th.

“Chris has been an excellent debater for us,” Hanson says. “Losing Chris to graduation this spring is a big, big loss for our program.”

Now in his 12th season as director of the Whitman speech & debate teams, Hanson received his “National Coach of the Year Award” at a policy debate tournament hosted by Wake Forest University in November. Hanson, the 37th winner of the annual award, is only the third coach honored for work at a West Coast college or university. Tim Browning at the University of Arizona won in 1979, followed by Daryl Scott at Gonzaga University in 1989.

Past winners of the national coaching award meet yearly to vote for the next winner. “I’m sincerely honored to be included in this group,” Hanson said. “Many of the past winners are recognized today as giants in the world of collegiate debate and rhetoric.”

Hanson, an associate professor of rhetoric, completed his Ph.D. in argumentation, rhetorical theory and rhetorical criticism at the University of Southern California. His debate teams at Whitman have ranked among the nation’s best for several years. He also developed and established the database now used almost exclusively as the source for information about speech and debate programs at U.S. colleges and universities.

Gorman and Thompson formed one of three Whitman debate duos who earned invitations to this spring’s NPTE. “Qualifying three teams among the top 48 in the country was impressive,” Hanson said. “We were one of three or four schools to do that this year.” Lydia Eberly, a junior, and Rob Olsen, a sophomore, competed as one of Whitman’s three teams. Sophomore Kathryn Berg and junior Chandra Carlisle also qualified but were unable to make the trip.

The strong showing Gorman and Thompson made at the NPTE was more impressive in that they got a late start to the debate season. With Thompson studying in France during the fall semester, Gorman and Bridget Kustin began the season as partners, winning three consecutive tournaments. When Kustin left at the semester break to study in India, Thompson returned to campus to debate with Gorman.

Gorman and Thompson competed in a handful of tournaments, winning the competition hosted by the University of California-San Diego. “Chris and Scott came together as a team very quickly,” Hanson said.

After their second place finish in the NPTE, Gorman and Thompson tackled the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) national championships in early April, hosted by the University of California, Northridge. They placed ninth, losing in the octa-finals of the massive 310-team tournament on a controversial 3-2 scoring decision. Finding enough experienced judges for such a huge tournament is always a problem, Hanson said.

“That probably ranks as one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen in debate,” he said. “I was there and people in the audience actually gasped when the decision was announced. Chris and Scott didn’t get upset. The decision was so bad they just laughed.”

With Brian Danielson serving as the assistant coach in charge of parliamentary debate, Whitman fielded a total of 10 parliamentary duos who competed on a regular basis this year. The twosomes included juniors Alex Bollinger and Jackie Jenkins, who won the Western Washington University tournament earlier in the season and tied for 65th at the NPDA championships, and junior Beth Pearson and first-year debater Kim Schlesinger, who also tied for 65th at the NPDA.

Other Whitman parliamentary teams this year were Patrick Carter-Hugo Vargas, Stephen Reed-Chris Chamness, Holly Black-Dawn Holmes, James Hovard-Laura Hanson, and Cathryn Posey-Danielle Williamson. Sam Spiegel, Tiger Kushamba and Nav Rekhi also competed with various partners.

In addition to his work in parliamentary debate, Stephen Reed made a strong showing as a freshman in the individual events. “Stephen won the Pacific tournament in dramatic interpretation, and he was a finalist at other tournaments,” Hanson said. “He very nearly qualified for the national tournament as a freshman, which doesn’t happen very often.”

Junior Beth Schueler and sophomore Eric Sunni were Whitman’s top policy debate team this year. Schueler and Sunni placed third at the Northwest CEDA Championships, losing 2-1 in the semifinals to Ft. Hays College, the tournament’s eventual winner. They placed 17th at the CEDA National Championships and 29th at the National Debate Tournament, which is recognized as the most competitive championship event in policy debate.

Sophomore Ben Meiches and freshman Jeff Buntin placed fifth at the NW CEDA Championships and 33rd at CEDA Nationals. Two more freshmen, Ross Richendrfer and Matt Schissler, won the junior division at the University of Southern California tournament and added a strong showing at the NW CEDA Championships, placing third.

Whitman dominated the individual speaker awards at the NW CEDA tournament, placing four individuals in the top six. Schueler placed second, Meiches third and Sunni fourth. Buntin was sixth.

Whitman’s other policy debate teams this year were Meghan Hughes-Nav Rekhi and Mike Winneke-Dana Randall. Joe Carver is the assistant coach in charge of policy debate.

CONTACT:

Dave Holden, Whitman News Service,
(509) 527-5902; holden@whitman.edu