Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Debate Team anticipates powerful season

No matter how talented at swimming, cycling or shooting baskets you are, the only way to get an athletic scholarship (of sorts) at Whitman is through the debate team. One of the top division I forensics teams in the country, Whitman’s policy and parliamentary debate teams have a long tradition of success.

“In 1887 Whitman hosted its first debate tournament,” said forensics professor, and head debate coach, Jim Hanson. “We’ve had a team continuously since about 1889 or so,” which is, according to Hanson, one of the longest-running debate programs in the western United States.
History aside, both the parliamentary and the policy teams have been off to a good start and are looking forward to successful seasons, according to Hanson.

“[The policy debate team] did quite well at Gonzaga, and [the parliamentary team] had a good showing at Reed,” said Hanson of the teams’ performances at the season-opening tournaments.

Policy debate, in which one topic is chosen for the entire season (this year’s topic is whether the United States should increase involvement with the government(s) of Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, and/or Syria) is the more research-heavy of the two types of debate.

Hanson estimates that policy debaters spend “on average, 10 to 40 hours a week” researching, doing drills and prepping. However, given the vast availability of information on this year’s topic, combined with preparations for the fall tournament season, most Whitman policy debaters are consistently on the high end of this range.

“It takes up all my fucking time,” said junior Sam Allen of his main complaint with debate. “But I have met some crazy people. And it pays for school.”

Policy debate involves spitting out as much information as possible in the allotted time, thus most debaters speak 350-400 words per minute (auctioneers can only speak at about 250 words per minute, but that still doesn’t come close to the world record-holding fastest female talker who clocked in at 603 words per minute).

Debaters appreciate the broadness of this year’s topic and its relevance to current events. “[the topic] is huge,” said second year debater, Robbie White. “It’s great. There’s so much information.” Although the glut of information can also be a bit frustrating. As junior Luke Sanford pointed out, “It’s changing by the hour.”

Hanson is hopeful for a good season. “We’re building and growing,” said Hanson of the relatively young policy team, but he added, “I expect great things out of them…they’ve already done very well.”

While it still necessitates research, parliamentary debate “focuses more on speaking and argumentation,” according to Assistant Parliamentary Coach Rob Olsen. Thus, the generally smaller time commitment for parliamentary debate lends itself to what Olsen sees as the biggest difference between the parliamentary and policy debate teams: “[Parliamentary debaters hang out with people who aren’t on the debate team. They have more friends.”

Parliamentary debaters compete in both extemporaneous debate, in which they are given their topic 30 minutes before they are set to speak and are allowed to do some research in the meantime, and improvisational debate, in which the teams are each given seven minutes to prepare and present their argument.

Before a tournament “each tournament gives you five to seven topics…such as Mideast peace, politics in China, or politics ’07-’08,” said Olsen. Just before a debate, the debating teams are given their more specific topic. “For example, a topic might be ‘Should Hilary Clinton be president?’ and then you debate why she should or shouldn’t be president.”

While the parliamentary team also has a lot of younger members, and a few skilled veterans, Olsen is eager about their potential. “I’m excited about what they could do.”

Olsen, who debated for Whitman for four years before becoming assistant coach last year sums up his love for debate: “It’s fun: I like thinking about current events and how to advocate policies in the most effective way.”

“Debate,” added sophomore policy debater Spencer Janyk, “gives you great life skills. It molds you into a citizen.”

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