By Courtney Crandell
Originally printed in the Herald
Patrick Henry College
Freshmen debaters Ryan McDonald (r) and Joseph Samelson (l)
PHC’s debaters are excited about the forward leaps debate is taking. PHC is sending a team to Berlin, Germany to compete over Christmas break. Three debate teams competed at Oxford at an international British Parliament tournament last month, and the following week, John Ehrett and Mark Teubl competed at the Cambridge University Inter Varsity tournament. And earlier in the semester, freshman debate partners Ryan McDonald and Joseph Samelson won the novice out-rounds at the University of Rochester debates. Their team was the first to win since PHC switched to a British parliamentary debate league about a year ago.
“God put us in the right position, and we didn’t let Him down,” McDonald said.
PHC switched to British Parliamentary Debate in search of challenging competition that rewards true forensic skill.
“We have followed, for over two years, prayerfully, and with utmost dedication, a path that has led us to the Worlds Debating Union (WDU), British Parliamentary debate league,” James Tallmon said, PHC Professor of Rhetoric and Director of Debate. “It is a truly international league, in which the competition is unparalleled.”
In British Parliamentary, debaters are given a new topic each round. They have 15 minutes to prepare, and are not allowed to use a computer or talk to a coach.
“WDU rewards broad knowledge, rhetorical skills, quick wit, and addressing directly those issues that abide at the heart of the debate,” Tallmon said. “We love it. British Parli has re-energized our team”
Six PHC debate teams attended the Rochester tournament: five were novices and one was a sophomore team. About 60 teams from the University of Vermont, Hobart and William Smith, Cornell, and other regional colleges competed in the tournament.
Other PHC teams also performed well. “We had some people that did very respectably and were close to breaking into elimination rounds,” Tallmon said.
He added that God uses near-successes and losses to teach debaters. But the important thing is to “take what you can learn from it and get back out there,” he said.
During the Oxford competition, Cordell Asbenson, a PHC senior, left England feeling like he had a better grasp on understanding debate itself.
“My idea of how other countries worked and how they ran politics was no longer just simply words on a page, I saw it, and that changed my mindset on foreign politics completely,” he said. “The atmosphere was, without question, inspiring, and had the rare opportunity to debate teams from Russia, Romania, and the London School of Economics. In one round my partner and I found ourselves debating a team from Cornell, Cambridge, and Ireland and performing incredibly well against them!”
Some of PHC's debate team
The tournament also provided novice debater David Fullerton an opportunity to witness to two debaters from Cornell. The conversation turned to spiritual matters when one of the Cornell debaters asked Fullerton, “So, are you religious?” As Ful¬lerton discussed God’s existence and goodness, the debater revealed that he had deeply considered religious issues.
“British Parli is where we believe God has led us,” Fullerton said. “It gives us an international platform from which to share God's love with our neighbor.”
Tallmon said the prospects for future successes this year are great based on the “chemistry, dedication, and raw talent we have right now with our young debaters.”
“I believe, with two years of consistent effort, PHC Debate will be among the elite British Parliamentary debaters in the world,” he said.