By Blake Meadows.
Patrick Henry College
Members of the PHC Debate squad
Few things induce ten Patrick Henry students to roll out of bed at 4 a.m. This is especially the case when the night before ended only two hours earlier. Yet, despite the sleep deprivation, five teams from the PHC Debate squad did just that in order to compete at the national championship last spring. Many of their friends question their grip on sanity but for the students that compete, British Parliamentary debate has a unique draw. As a world-wide debate league, students who participate have the opportunity to debate colleges from across the globe on matters that have serious implications for the modern world.
This semester, the debate team is abuzz with the upcoming tournament schedule. In addition to a rigorous American tour including Ivy League schools, the PHC Debate squad has five international tournaments on the roster. Cambridge and Oxford host two of the most highly competitive tournaments in the world. This November, three teams from Patrick Henry will travel across the Atlantic to test their skill at these competitions. Patrick Henry will also field a team at the 2012 Berlin World Championship.
The teams are excited about the opportunity to represent the college at this level of debate, says John Ehrett, one of Patrick Henry’s top debaters. “International travel provides a unique and unprecedented forum through which we can engage the culture,” he observes.
What many consider to be among the best and brightest speakers from around the world compete at British Parliamentary tournaments, and the international community provides an even higher level of competition. The two PHC teams that competed at Cambridge, for instance, noted how awe inspiring it was to debate at the Cambridge Debate Union, in many of the same rooms used by some of history’s greatest thinkers.
British Parliamentary has a flavor all its own, and competitors attest to the challenges that the style poses. For instance, debaters are only allowed to give one seven minute speech. Without the ability for a second chance in-round, competitors must focus on making their first speech precise and clear. Ambiguity can be the difference between first place and fourth. Rankings are another unique aspect of the league. Instead of voting for a particular side, four teams compete in the same round, two on each side of the argument, and the judges rank them based on quality of argument and role fulfillment. With weeks of preparation preceding them, the tournaments prove an intense, exciting crucible of competition and growth.
As Robert Snow, the executive coach of PHC Debate noted, “This league engages the brightest minds and prides itself on having a serious debate about the leading issues of the day (conservative and liberal), promoting critical thinking, communication and rhetorical skills.”
He added that the motions faced by competitors cover a host of issues, with topics ranging from matters of social efficacy to the morality of certain government actions. The motions debated also serve to challenge and educate competitors on how to approach challenging issues, he explained, in many cases forcing them to confront ethical questions to issues they may have never considered, such as the moral underpinnings of artificial intelligence.
Debate team members prepping for the next round.
After facing teams from Oxford on the subject, one PHC team member had a much keener understanding of the subject and how it affects society.
“As Christians, these subjects benefit Patrick Henry College debaters in two ways,” said junior team member Blake Meadows. “On the one hand, the competitors are able to sharpen their own arguments on controversial subjects. On the other, they are able to better understand the opposing position and the ideas that comprise it. Both aspects are necessary to meaningful cultural dialogue.”
Travel is another important function of the British Parliamentary circuit, a world-wide league in which some of the most important tournaments take place in England and Europe. International competitions are among the most prestigious events in the league, recognized by all parties as representing the highest level of competition in British Parliamentary. The College’s debaters who competed at Cambridge last November, for example, agreed that the competition they faced were some of the best they had ever witnessed.
Commenting on the prowess of his teams, Coach Snow said, “The two teams we sent did an outstanding job. Despite the higher quality competition, both teams were competing in the last round for a position in the out-rounds.” He added that PHC remains one of the smallest schools competing in this league and yet consistently take on debaters from premier institutions.
As Dr. James Tallmon, Patrick Henry’s Director of Debate noted, “We have participated in this league for 1½ years now, we’ve worked through the learning curve and are ready to be competitive at the international level.”
To finance its ambitious international travel schedule, the debate squad is seeking support, with PHC Junior Kira Clark heading up an aggressive fundraising drive. “The College has been very generous to the debate team,” she said, “and it is time that we started to carry more of our own weight.”
All of these steps signal an exciting period of growth in Patrick Henry Debate, noted Dr. Tallmon, who acknowledged that the team hopes to gain a reputation as a powerhouse in the league, to the glory of Christ. “They are prepared to work hard, prepare hard and pray hard so that they can compete with wisdom and eloquence,” he said.
Those interested in helping the debate team in its fundraising drive should contact the Development Office at:
10 Patrick Henry Circle
Purcellville, VA 20132
Phone: (540) 338 1776
Fax: (540) 441 8709