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Debate Team Off to Strong Start

WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Jim Hanson, the 2004 National Debate Coach of the Year, has great expectations for his latest Whitman College debate team, and with good reason.

“This is one of the strongest and deepest Whitman teams ever,” Hanson says.  Results from the academic year’s first several debate tournaments tend to support his claims.

In parliamentary debate, Whitman seniors Scott Thompson and Bridget Kustin have already established themselves as one of the top duos in the region. Thompson and Kustin placed first in a tournament hosted by Pacific Lutheran University Oct. 21-24, rising to the top against what Hanson calls “many of the top teams in the Northwest.”

Sophomore James Hovard and first-year debater Jeff Wilson won the junior division at Pacific Lutheran, while junior Rob Olsen and senior Alex Bollinger finished first and second, respectively, in the tournament’s Lincoln-Douglas Debate. A one-on-one debate format, Lincoln-Douglas gives competitors the option to make an argument supporting or opposing an aspect of the criminal justice system. Olsen and Bollinger both argued in favor of banning the death penalty.

Thompson and Kustin came close to winning two previous tournaments. They opened the season Sept. 25-26 at a tournament hosted by Reed College, winning every round until losing a close decision in the finals to a team from Lewis & Clark College. Senior Beth Pearson was named the tournament’s top individual speaker, with Kustin placing second in the individual scoring. Thompson also won the tournament’s Lincoln-Douglas Debate, again arguing in support of a death penalty ban.

Other Whitman duos that made a good showing at the Reed tournament were seniors Alex Bollinger and Jackie Jenkins, sophomore Chris Chamness and Pearson, and first-year students Robert Crenshaw and Jeff Wilson.

Whitman again showed its parliamentary depth at the Reed tournament as Hovard and first-year student Sarah McCarthy won the novice division. A collection of strong newcomers and seasoned veterans is why Hanson asserts, “When you’re hitting (up against) Whitman Debate, you’re hitting a very good team.”

Thompson and Kustin also placed second in a tournament hosted Oct. 8-10 by Lewis & Clark College. Teammates Chamness and Pearson placed ninth.

In policy debate, Whitman duos have placed third in two of the team’s first three tournaments. One of Whitman’s top duos, senior Beth Schueler and Eric Suni, finished third in a field of 54 teams at the Sept. 17-19 Gonzaga University Jesuit Debates. In all, Whitman advanced four duos to the elimination rounds. Only the University of California-Berkeley and University of Southern California, two much larger schools, advanced as many. 

Junior Jeff Buntin and sophomore Ben Meiches also made it to Gonzaga’s elimination rounds, as did the teams of sophomores Ross Richendrfer and Matt Schissler and first-year debaters Mike Meredith and Eric Chalfant.

Meiches placed fifth in the individual speaker scoring at Gonzaga. Suni placed 14th.

At Pepperdine University’s policy tournament, held October 15-17, Mieches and Buntin  went undefeated through quarterfinals before falling in semifinals, placing third among 54 teams.

Schueler and Suni, after breaking into the Pepperdine elimination rounds with a 5-1 record, suffered a disappointing 2-1 loss in octafinals due in large part to a missed opportunity. In the first affirmative rebuttal, arguably the hardest part of policy debate, an opponent presented an argument that Suni failed to answer. “It really hurt them in the end,” Hanson says. Schueler and Suni finished in ninth place. Richendrfer and Schissler also qualified for the elimination rounds, finishing 19th.

Whitman’s top two policy debate duos also traveled Oct. 8 to the University of Kentucky, competing in what Hanson refers to as “one of the toughest tournaments of the year.”  Both Whitman teams, Schueler-Suni and Meiches-Buntin, broke into elimination rounds. They tied for 17th in a field of over 100 teams. Schueler and Suni finished with a 6-2 record, while Meiches and Buntin were 5-3.

Whitman competitors in individual events opened their season at the Lewis & Clark tournament. Patrick Carter, a senior, took first place in Communications Analysis with his examination of rhetoric at work on Fox News. Sophomores Hugo Vargas and Andrew Lum took first in dual interpretation.  

Senior Cat Posey finished third at Lewis & Clark in Programmed Oral Interpretation, which requires a compiled selection from two artistic sources. Senior Beth Pearson placed fourth in Extemporaneous Speaking, a format that gives each competitor 30 minutes to prepare a response to one of three questions. Sophomore Stephen Reed placed fifth in dramatic interpretation.

In individual events at the Pacific Lutheran tournament, sophomore Danielle Williamson was a finalist in After Dinner Speaking, where competitors give an original speech on an entertaining subject. Pearson finished third in Extemporaneous Speaking. Senior Bridget Kustin was a finalist in the Informative Speaking event, which typically features pieces about scientific or technological concepts.

With the first months of its debate season completed, Whitman has shown it has the skill, experience and depth to be a major contender in next spring’s national tournaments, Hanson says. 

“Given our first three parliamentary debate scores, we are poised to be a national championship team in parliamentary debate,” Hanson adds. “Coupled with our policy debate success, we will be making a formidable challenge to UC-Berkeley for the best combined policy and parliamentary debate team in the nation.”

For now, however, Whitman’s policy and parliamentary debate teams, as well as its individual event competitors, are keeping a simple focus, taking one round, one win and one tournament, at a time.

The debate season continues this weekend when Whitman sends its policy debate contingent cross country to a tournament at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University. Meanwhile, the parliamentary debaters compete at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minn.  


Ezra Fox, Whitman News Service Intern; 509 526-4747; foxeb@whitman.edu

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

Published on Nov 18, 2004
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