By Alicia Constant
Patrick Henry College
Ryan Collins, NCFCA National Champion
Patrick Henry College will be welcoming two national debating champions on campus this fall, marking the first time PHC Debate has drafted the nation’s top team policy debaters from both NCFCA and Stoa Nationals.
NCFCA National Champion Ryan Collins and Stoa National Champion Ellyse Elmer both attended PHC’s two-week debate camp last year, which they say prepared them to excel at the national level.
“I truly believe that the success I was blessed with during my last year of high school debate was attributed largely to the concepts I learned [at debate camp],” Elmer said. She said the personalized mentoring and feedback she received was invaluable:
“Every lecture opened a new door to the possibilities of debate, and the instructors were all a blessing to learn from.”
PHC alumnus Isaiah McPeak, and his company, Ethos Publications, have directed PHC’s debate camps for the past two years.
“To have Stoa and NCFCA national TP championships in the same year won by PHC debate campers is a real honor,” McPeak said.
Registration is still open for this year’s camp, scheduled from July 14-27.
“A camp cannot always claim success for the students who come out of it, but I think Ellyse and Ryan will tell you that camp had a huge impact,” McPeak said. “There's just nothing like getting coaching from professional coaches for two weeks, visiting experts in D.C., and having a practice tournament with stop-start judging. It's the best way to start a year.”
NCFCA champion Collins said his time at debate camp was “two weeks’ worth of hard work and enjoyment.”
“I learned so much more out of the camp than I ever expected,” he said. “There was so much more than just the learning portion: the activities that we did every day, the sports and the games, were tremendous as well. The friendships that were made at the camp were ones that still stand today.”
Both Collins and Elmer will be joining PHC’s debate team, which is looking forward to a year of growth. This year, the team hopes to travel to an international tournament in Chennai, India, along with other regional tournaments around the country.
“[Ellyse and Ryan] are going to complement an already stellar group of debaters who are, in my estimation, two years away from being globally competitive in Worlds debate,” PHC debate coach Dr. James Tallmon said. “Ellyse and Ryan will definitely help us get there, among other really strong incoming freshmen.”
Two years ago, PHC left the National Parliamentary Debate Association to look for a league that would offer stiffer competition consistent with PHC’s philosophy of debate. The team found the Worlds University Debating Union, which offered international British Parliamentary-style debate.
Dr. Jim Tallmon, debate coach
Tallmon said he was attracted to the league because judges did not reward sophistry, “speed-and-spread” (trying to cram as many arguments into a round as possible), and clashes over technicalities. Instead, the league focused more on rhetorical arguments on issues, and would also allow PHC teams to engage in substantive international debate against Oxford, Cambridge, and Ivy League schools.
PHC debaters must learn to communicate winsomely across a vast cultural and religious divide. Tallmon said students look at debating as a mission field, and realize that they can accomplish just as much outside the rounds as in them.
PHC junior Rachel Aldrich recalls sitting in a hallway of the Empire State Building between rounds, awaiting the judges’ decision. Across from her was a young man from another team, and they struck up a conversation. “I’ve never talked to a Christian like you before,” he said. “I don’t understand you at all. Can I just ask you questions?”
They talked about political views, campaign experiences, science, why he was an agnostic, and who he believed Jesus was.
“It was a little bit of a surreal moment,” Aldrich said. “A lot of other debaters have had similar experiences. We are the only evangelical Christians a lot of these kids will ever meet in college.”
A Unique Format
Unlike team policy debaters, British Parliamentary debaters do not research one topic the entire year. Instead, they receive a resolution 15 minutes before the round, and must come up with their arguments on the spot, without the assistance of the internet or a coach. “You have to have a lot of walking around knowledge,” Tallmon said.
Because Worlds is an international league, Tallmon noted, “you can’t be America-centric. You have to learn how to look at issues from a variety of perspectives… It’s like keeping an extemporaneous file in your brain on international relations from a number of countries’ perspectives.”
The league also rewards quick wit and repartee, rhetorical strategies, and teamwork. Four teams compete in every round: two supporting the resolution and two opposing it. Teams are graded on how they handle the debate, but also how they cooperate with the other team on their side, often a team from another college.
Last year, the debate team travelled to New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Toronto, Canada, Oxford, England, Cambridge, England, and Berlin, Germany. PHC’s current administrative budget was designed with enough money for regional tournaments and a national tournament within the U.S. Rather than ask the college administration for more money, Tallmon and his students looked for alternative methods of funding.
The debate team joined with Auctions on Main in Purcellville to raise funds for debate trips by allowing people to donate auction items to benefit PHC Debate. If you have an item you would like to donate to support the team, contact Auctions on Main.
Tallmon encouraged people to support the team, saying that donors are giving to a kind of academic mission field: “These students are serious about influencing debate for Christ and committed to building friendships with people between rounds, praying for them, and showing Christian charity.”