Policy debaters
Whitman policy debaters

Two dozen students from Whitman’s renowned debate team returned from spring break boasting top honors from national competitions held at colleges across the country. Among the many season finale victories, the program was honored as this year’s champion of the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) — thanks to the squad’s many tournament wins, including a third-place win at the national championship tournament held at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo. Further, Whitman teams earned second place among the top-64 teams competing in the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE) at the University of Denver.

Rounding out the success, Whitman earned a fifth-place spot — out of 150 competing schools — at the Cross-Examination Debate Association Championship held in Binghamton, New York. That same Whitman team traveled to Dallas to earn 33rd-place honors at the National Debate Tournament (NDT).

Parliamentary debaters
Whitman parliamentary debaters

“The teams all did fantastically,” said Jim Hanson, professor of forensics and the team’s head coach. “I’m so proud of all the hard work these students did and of their amazing ability to handle this level of intellectual challenge. They succeeded in responding to dozens of arguments — in a very short period of time — against some of the smartest students in the country.”

The national tournament showings cap an impressive year of achievements for the program, which is comprised of about 40 Whitties who work in teams of two to tackle parliamentary- and policy-style debates on a variety of issues. Thanks to another season filled with tournament wins, this is the 15th consecutive year that Whitman has qualified for the NDT — a claim that very few schools in the country can make, said Hanson.

Hanson cites a number of additional highlights that demonstrate the strength of Whitman’s debate program:

  • In policy debate, Allison Humble ’12 and Alex Zendeh ’12 have regularly been among the top 32 teams at the national tournaments in which they have competed — defeating teams from Harvard, Dartmouth, Northwestern and other top college debate programs.
  • Nick Budak ’14, a “complete novice” when he joined the program, placed first at all six junior varsity and novice tournaments he entered this year. “In my 19 years at Whitman, I’m not aware of any debater anywhere that has accomplished that,” said Hanson.
  • Whitman’s top-four parliamentary debate teams — including Nigel Ramoz-Leslie ’11 and Tom Friedenbach ’11, Nick Griffin ’11 and Chris Fleming ’11, Joel Wilson ’11 and Drake Skaggs ’12, and Miranda Morton ’13 and John Henry Heckendorn ’12 — have regularly been in late elimination rounds at a number of tournaments. The combined success of these teams prompted Brent Northup ’68, debate coach at Carroll College in Helena, Mont., to announce to the Northwest Forensic Conference that Whitman’s debate program is the most successful he has ever seen.
  • Whitman’s young policy program showed its talents when both teams — including Mitch Dunn ’13 and Tia Butler ’13 as well as Ben Menzies ’14 and Sean Mulloy ’14 — advanced to elimination rounds at the frosh-sophomore national championship.
  • A record six Whitman teams qualified to participate in the NPTE this year.

For Whitman debaters, the local, regional and national competitions offer rewarding opportunities to apply their liberal arts education and tactical debate training to challenging duels of intellect and research.

“I love debate for two primary reasons: the competitive success and the thrill associated with winning, as well as the academic enrichment,” said sociology major Nigel Ramoz-Leslie ’11. “It takes a lot of work to actually succeed in debate, so winning is very rewarding. More important is the distinct exposure to academic knowledge that debate provides. The opportunity for students to synthesize their Whitman educations with real-world policy concerns provides training for how to creatively approach real global problems.”

Mitch Dunn ’13, a politics major who has participated in policy debate for five years, is also driven by the competitive nature of debate, but said the research component can be just as rewarding. “It is very fascinating to learn so much depth about such broad topics, many of which are directly correlated to current national problems,” he said.

In addition to the talented students involved with Whitman’s debate program, Hanson credits his fellow coaches, Aaron Hardy and Nick Robinson, and helpers Jimi Durkee and Lewis Silver for dedicating countless hours to working with Whitman debaters.

Dunn echoes his coaches’ sentiment, emphasizing the ongoing support he and his teammates receive from the debate program. “From the beginning of August until the end of spring break, it’s not uncommon for our coaches to be in the prep room working from midday until to 2 a.m., six days a week. Their hard work and dedication allows Whitman’s debate program to not only be competitive, but to be extremely successful as well,” he said.

—Joe Gurriere