By Gregory Escobar, with reporting by Brett Harris (originally published in PHC Herald, 10/22/10); picture by Joanna Griffith
Patrick Henry College
Zach Enos (left) and Ian Reid (right) won second place in the British Parli tournament
PHC debaters Zachary Enos and Ian Reid won second place in the “World Debate” division in Cape Cod, Mass., last weekend. In the final round, Enos and Reid defeated two teams from Cornell University and were just barely edged out by a team from Colgate University on a 2-1 split decision.
“We were opposing term limits for Supreme Court justices," Enos said. "We applied what we had learned in our classes from Dr. Chodakiewicz, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Farris about the importance of wisdom, stability, and rule of law.”
The tournament was the PHC Debate Team’s first foray into a new style of debate modeled after the British parliamentary system. Enos and Reid, along with juniors Joanna Griffith and Gregory Escobar, debated in the tournament to evaluate the potential for the team to regularly compete in the league.
In World Debate, four teams of two partners go head-to-head after hearing a topic “proposition” announced just 15 minutes before the start of the round.
Though their opponents could never have guessed, the PHC team knew very little about BP debate heading into the tournament. They read the rules for the first time in the car and only then learned that online research was forbidden during rounds. That last-minute discovery prompted a panicked return to school to pick up several printers and the last three months of The Economist. The drive to Massachusetts was spent writing and printing briefs on current events.
“We knew literally nothing when we left on the trip,” Reid said, laughing. “I was frantically trying to figure out how to obtain three months’ worth of current events knowledge in an eleven hour car drive.”
“We were stunned and terrified,” Enos said, “We were reading the rules in the car on the drive up. I would be half asleep and Ian would say, ‘Zach, wake up this is important!’”
The format of the debate allows competitors to focus their argumentation on the heart of an issue rather than technicalities and rewards style, good presentation, and rhetoric.“The opportunity to get to debate big picture ideas rather than theoretical minutia was a privilege,” Enos said.
According to the debate student coaches, after leaving the National Education Debate Association in 2008, the PHC Debate Team has been looking for a league that encourages not only solid argumentation, but also good communication skills. Many leagues have placed an overemphasis on debate as a game, weighing argument structure over argument content. World Debate seems to be an opportunity to hone and exhibit Patrick Henry’s vision to foster strong content and structure combined with winsome style.
While PHC debaters’ political and moral convictions have been a barrier to competitive success in other leagues, the warm welcome and respect they received as a small school with conservative views thrilled the team.
“The BP community was very open and accepting of us.” Enos said. “We were able to communicate conservative and Christian values in almost every round. Judges came up to us afterwards and said we were a breath of fresh air because we came from a different perspective, but still communicated well.”
Dr. Jim Tallmon, director of debate, believes the team has finally discovered the perfect fit—a format and style uniquely suited to the strengths of PHC debaters.
“It really is quite a serious endeavor to find a workable combination of competition and purity of the sport, where we can use rhetorical arts, quick wit, and our classical learning to make strong arguments,” he said. “That makes this a terrific discovery for us.”
The league also offers the potential of prestige and recognized excellence. “It allows us to compete against Ivy League schools, the best of the best in the world,” Enos said. The league is internationally recognized with schools such as Cornell, Yale, Cambridge competing and hosting tournaments.
Enos added the World Debate league also provides a more collegial atmosphere with fellow competitors. “In other leagues all the various schools are very isolated. In this style you got to chat with other teams, you got to know them,” Enos said. “We met teams from Singapore, and India, and all over the country and were able to interact with them as friends.”
Enos, Reid, Griffith and Escobar are all looking forward to competing more frequently in this new league. World debate offers excellence in competition, prestige in success, and a unique opportunity for PHC to witness to and influence its debate culture. “We haven’t been this excited about debate since high school,” said Joanna Griffith, one of the debate team’s student coaches. “We’ve been looking for a league that better matches the goals of our debate program and I think we’ve found it.”