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Debate Camp: An Arena to Build Life Leadership

July 23rd, 2010

By Sarah Pride

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

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Kyndra Jamison, Debate Camp director and new PHC alumna

In addition to its excellent academics and Christ-centered campus ethos, Patrick Henry has built a reputation of attracting, training, and graduating some of the best public speakers in the collegiate arena. Many of these debate and moot court alumni have since gone on to attend many excellent law schools, including those at Harvard, Duke, and Pepperdine universities.

What some may not realize, however, is that many of these talented debaters began their forensics training in high school, arriving as classmates at PHC after years of friendly competition in the National Christian Forensics & Communications Association (NCFCA). Some, having earned PHC scholarships reserved for NCFCA champions, wholeheartedly invested their leadership talents in the College’s debate, moot court, and mock trial teams.

This summer, PHC’s two-week Debate Camp welcomed award-winning high school debaters and novices alike to its dynamic debate community, while introducing high school debate veterans to the year’s upcoming NCFCA resolution for the first time.  (The resolution is a proposition about a particular topic about which debaters must build an effective case.)

New alumna Kyndra Jamison, who will be attending Columbia Law School in New York in the fall, recruited as co-directors alumnus Storm Swendsboe and junior Gregory Escobar and laid out a two-track camp to serve both “novice” and “varsity” debaters. Novices, she says, received an “introduction to the theory and philosophy of debate,” while students in the varsity track improve their skills while “learning to become reflective and purposeful in their choices as debaters and in the development of their souls.

“Debate develops your mind,” explains Jamison, outlining one obvious benefit of debate. “One of the best things a high schooler can do is practice thinking. It develops the ability to think quickly on your feet and improves one’s communication with people from a variety of backgrounds.”

This past school year, PHC’s Director of Debate, Dr. James Tallmon, helped his team build a clear mentorship structure, in which more experienced leaders worked with the newer members of the team. Within this structure, and under Dr. Tallmon’s oversight, Jamison taught PHC’s freshman-level debate class. Swendsboe, meanwhile, interned at Ivy Christian School and taught debate there.

“It’s been a challenge to take accumulated knowledge and strategy and turn it first into a college course and then into a high school camp,” Jamison shares.

Novice track debate camper Garrett Jamison

Nevertheless, students have benefited greatly from Dr. Tallmon and Jamison’s knowledge and planning. Varsity-track debater Whitney Rutherford, for example, shared that she “found her niche in debate.” Last year, she attended Debate Camp for the first time, entered NCFCA competition in the 2009-2010 season, and won her state and regional tournaments.

“This year at Debate Camp, I learned how to build a better relationship with my partner and how we can work off of each other’s skills,” she says.

Another varsity debater, Ryan Baisden, who qualified for the NCFCA National tournament a few years running, says public speaking helped him to develop confidence.

“I am the kind of guy who used to have trouble making eye contact,” he smiles. “I am still a shy guy, but debate has helped build my day-to-day conversation skills.”

By its very nature, a debate round draws out qualities of perseverance and self-confidence. To succeed, students must prepare for a topic over the course of many months, often acquiring knowledge and insights that will serve them in practical ways for years to come. Tournaments quickly reveal those who have invested the most effort, as students in each round must skilfully multitask—keeping track of their opponents’ arguments while simultaneously preparing counter-arguments. Ultimately, one team must persuade the judges, who may not have personal knowledge of the topic, that its position is the most credible.

“Debate is competitive, but the purpose is not to beat the other team, but rather to communicate and connect with your audience,” explains camp co-director Escobar, who will serve this year’s PHC debate team as one of three student coaches in the fall. “Christians skilled in communication and logical reasoning will be powerful tools for the Kingdom, and if the campers leave with that passion, I will be thrilled.”

Many of this year’s campers were able to pinpoint specifically what they learned about life and God from their debate camp experience. High school freshman and novice debater Garrett Jamison, Kyndra Jamison’s younger brother, laughed and noted that “I am a pretty nervous person while debating, although I try to hide it. I’ve had to learn to trust God more.”

Researching Russia for the debate resolution

Camper Gabrielle Weiss, who described herself as “one of the people who sneaked by into the varsity track,” finds that working with a more involved partner this year helped her learn to “let go of control.  I’m getting used to not having to tell my partner what to do,” she explained.

At the end of the two weeks, campers participated in a full-length debate tournament, complete with qualifying rounds and final competition. To prepare, they accessed the College library’s many electronic database subscriptions, such as LexisNexis, to research the season’s NCFCA resolution: “That the United States Federal Government should significantly reform its policy toward Russia.” Directors and counselors helped them do the research, offering one-on-one coaching as desired.

In the spirit of the debate resolution, this summer’s camp took on a “Russian” flavor, as the directors divided students into three debate clubs and gave each a special name—“The Grandmasters,” “The Kremlin,” and “Agents of Influence.” During free time, the clubs came together and joined students from other camps at PHC for activities both silly and serious.

The fun of forging new friendships combined with an atmosphere of intense, passionate learning transported some campers and counselors alike into a reverie when pressed for a favorite camp memory. “Playing campus-wide ‘Clue,’” offered Gabrielle Weiss, while Whitney Rutherford says it was “getting to know my team during dorm time.” Kyndra Jamison, meanwhile, mentioned the camp field trip to the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C., where PHC Adjunct Professor Dr. Chodakiewicz serves as Academic Dean.

In each case, Debate Camp provided an intense and fulfilling experience that will certainly serve campers for years to come.

“Everyone has to know how to present ideas,” concluded Jamison, “whether they end up as public speakers or not.”

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