By Sarah Pride
Patrick Henry College
Dr. Jim Tallmon
In mid-March, seasoned PHC debaters Tim Snyder and Joanna Griffith, along with PHC Director of Debate and Professor of Rhetoric, Dr. Jim Tallmon, will board a plane for Berlin, Germany. Their destination: the 20th Annual International Forensics Association Tournament (IFAT), which promises to be another potential arena of high-level competition for Patrick Henry College public speakers. As members of debate leadership, Snyder and Griffith have, along with Dr. Tallmon, been searching for new ways to help the students under their charge improve their skills and glean every benefit from their education. Griffith in particular believes that combining the intense study of debate within an international context could reap valuable fruit.
“As I’ve studied the political, cultural, and philosophical history of the western world in various core classes here at PHC,” says Griffith, “I’ve become increasingly convinced that we cannot fully understand America today without understanding the European world which has so heavily influenced our nation.”
This exciting development follows close on the heels of “Christian Nationals,” March 6-7, when two vanloads of PHC debaters will travel to Cedarville, OH for the Christian college version of the national debate championships. As Director of Debate Dr. James Tallmon explains, the entire debate team has been building toward this tournament from the start of the school year, pursuing “excellence in very systematic ways.”
“The ultimate aim is success, but we are also working to build that culture that will nourish excellent success,” explains Tallmon, who learned and taught leadership development at Dickinson State University in North Dakota before coming to PHC.
The team has experienced a profitable season so far, winning sweepstakes (first place for the overall team) at a Parli tournament at Wheaton College, and third place sweepstakes at a tournament in Palatine, IL, along with its usual assortment of individual speaker awards. While gratified by these notable benchmarks of competitive progress, Tallmon says he is even more encouraged by the personal growth of his debaters.
“Isaiah [McPeak] kept saying that debate is one of the best places to learn leadership. I suddenly had a brain wave—why not systemize it?” he exclaims. “We have made it explicit that all scholarship recipients are tapped for leadership. First, they are mentored, and then they mentor others. At the end of the year, they all refine their own job descriptions.”
As Snyder, who has worked with debaters both before and during his years as PHC student, says, “Leadership on the debate team has taught me much more than just how to debate. . . . One of the benefits of attending PHC, a new college, is the opportunity to take initiative and assume positions of responsibility. The school has been very receptive to working with student leadership, and for that I’m grateful.”
Meanwhile, PHC’s debate program stands at the threshold of an exploratory trip to Berlin, and another intense appearance at Christian Nationals, which typically welcomes 27-28 Christian colleges from across the country to compete in a wide variety of divisions and styles. Last year, the College won second place sweepstakes and first place for individual policy NFA, among many other awards. This year, the team is aiming for a sweepstakes win.
“Our team is in fighting form,” says Tallmon. “They’ve been working hard.”