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PHC Debate Team Competes at Cambridge

December 14th, 2011

Reporting by Alan Carrillo.

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

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From L to R: Zach Enos, Ian Reid, John Ehrett, Blake Meadows

A small contingent of PHC debaters competed in British parliamentary debate in England on November 18-19 in a tournament hosted by Cambridge University. Facing competitors from schools across the globe, including Harvard University, Oxford University, the University of Sydney, the University of Dublin, the University of St. Andrews, and the London School of Economics, seniors Ian Reid and Zachary Enos and sophomores John Ehrett and Blake Meadows more than held their own against both undergrad and postgrad students in the highly-competitive international league.

As a debate style, British Parliament (BP) offers unique challenges, with every round featuring four teams of two.  Two teams represent “government” and advocate the resolution, while two teams argue in opposition. With a new resolution announced per round, the teams are given only fifteen minutes to prepare before taking the floor.

“[Competitors are required to] speak on the level of someone who has been studying the topic for years,” said Ian Reid, a student coach and debater for the PHC team. Its extemporaneous nature and sheer quantity of content distinguishes it in style and approach from other forensics programs like Moot Court, Mock Trial, and Model United Nations.

Reid and Enos came within a few points of breaking into the final rounds, and all of the students achieved the team’s primary goal—as Reid says, “to demonstrate to those with whom we interacted that intellectualism and conservatism, reason and romanticism… are not only consistent, but mutually affirming.”

Recounting a conversation that grew from a friendship he and Reid developed with a group of students from the Netherlands, Enos observed that, like many of their peers in Europe, the Dutch students had never heard a solid presentation of the conservative position.

Arriving in England

“As Ian and I began to describe the role morality must play in the establishment of legitimate social norms, they stopped us and said, ‘Wait a second, are you guys really conservatives?’” recalls Enos. “At that point we explained that our brand of conservatism isn’t the sort of anti-immigrant racist madness that you see in some European countries. We believe that traditional morality is the proper foundation of sound law.”

At the end of the exchange, Enos and Reid invited their new friends to come visit in the States, saying that, “we’re Christian conservatives, and we have very sound reasons for what we believe. Come to the States, and we’ll tell you more about those reasons.”

The Dutch students laughed and said they would. “I can’t wait to see them again,” said Enos.

All the PHC competitors soaked in the opportunity to visit a site as historical and beautiful as Cambridge, which through the years has seen prominent figures like Winston Churchill, William Lane Craig and many others debate in the very Cambridge Union Society building that hosted the tournament.

“There’s nothing in America that holds so much history,” relates Ehrett. “I remember thinking, ‘This is like a proving ground for world leaders.’ And to be sitting there, becoming a part of that tradition, was really exciting.”

The tournament hosted by Cambridge comes on the heels of PHC’s very first international BP tournament, which took place at Yale University in October. Although PHC previously competed in National Parliamentary debate (NPDA), the team switched to BP and is now in its second season as a relative newcomer to the league. Dr. James Tallmon, Director of PHC Debate, is confident that the team has finally found the debate style that is ideal for PHC.

Walking in beautiful Cambridge, England

“[PHC’s transition to compete in BP debate] is the culmination of a three-year search to find the kind of competition, the caliber of competition, and the style of debate that is most in keeping with our institutional ethos,” he explained. “Unlike other collegiate debate leagues that emphasize high-speed speeches and sophistic argumentation, the British Parliamentary style carries a different emphasis.”

What is required?

“Quick wit, and rhetoric, [and] substantive argumentation,” said Tallmon.

Internationally Ranked

After only two semesters of competition in "World University Debate" league (British Parliamentary style), Patrick Henry College Debate has been ranked 27th in the world by the International Debate Education Association, the body which tracks the performance of 500 teams worldwide. International Debate Education Association rankings place PHC's debate team just ahead of Stanford and well ahead of Duke, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and Swarthmore. The College's debate team is ranked just below King's College (25), and close to Harvard (22).

"All the competitors and coaches extend a heartfelt 'Thank you' to our generous supporters," says Tallmon. "We are beginning our countdown to Berlin in 2012. We relished the opportunity to compete in Cambridge, but we now look forward to hitting our stride at the National Championships in April 2012, and then 'Worlds' in Berlin, one year from now. PHC Debate will enter several teams and make a strong showing, by God's grace."

Already BP debate has provided a golden opportunity for PHC Debate to live out the College's mission to persuasively communicate truth in leading the nation and shaping the culture.  Now, this mission is being pursued on an international stage alongside the best students and schools in the world.