By Sarah Pride
Patrick Henry College
While other colleges struggle to build national-caliber athletic programs, Patrick Henry College endeavors to field elite squads of communicators. And this fall season, the PHC debate team experienced success in every arena. In the National Educational Debate Association (NEDA), the College won the team sweepstakes award in all three tournaments in which it was offered, meaning that the PHC team’s overall performance was highest when compared with other schools. In the National Forensics Association (NFA), the more highly competitive league that Patrick Henry entered only this school year, students have earned awards at every tournament thus far. And in NPDA Parliamentary Debate (Parli), a national league that includes many larger colleges, PHC won a tournament in the Varsity division for the first time.
As one of the many “firsts” for the team this semester, four debaters experimented with the NFA league. Sophomore Kyndra Jamison, who headed up the experiment, calls the league “a good bridge between NEDA and Parli” in terms of competitiveness. Despite their inexperience with the new style, PHC students won awards at every tournament. At the last tournament of the semester, students Scott York and Ashlynne Meiklejohn won both first and second place.
“We had a desire for a more academic form of debate, and the NFA is more research-intensive,” Jamison explains. “Judging from our ability to succeed so far, at least in our region, we hope that we will continue to compete.”
In another first, senior Chris Tuggle and sophomore Tim Snyder pulled out a win in the Varsity division of the Berea Parli Tournament in Berea, Kentucky. Although PHC debaters have won the Novice division of Parli tournaments during previous years of competition, they have never topped the Varsity division until this season. Parli tournaments are unusually intense, since speakers compete with only fifteen minutes to think about the topic for each round.
“I believe we did so well at this tournament because we all worked together,” declares Parli coach Kawika Vellalos, a senior. “Even the team members who didn’t make it to the final rounds used their research skills to help prep Tim and Chris.”
Everyone, in fact, has good things to say about the teamwork and the leadership on the debate team this fall. Senior Isaiah McPeak served as Executive Debate Coach, and other students (Vellalos, senior Nathanael Yellis, and Jamison) headed up each individual league under his leadership. Dr. James Tallmon, PHC’s Professor of Rhetoric, stepped in as the new Director of Debate, providing the student-run debate team with additional administrative backing and the ability to earn college credit for their work.
“We organized ten-person ‘team groups’ to do research,” says Vellalos. “This allows people to take ownership of their team.”
Dr. Tallmon, who moved 1500 miles to join the PHC community this fall, applauded the student leadership on the debate team. “I was impressed with the way Isaiah and Nathanael set the tone of the meetings,” he said. “I could tell that the culture on the squad is really conducive to joy.”
The fall semester saw an influx of new debaters as well, including freshmen Erin Pradia and Stephen Elzinga, who had never debated before this semester. Elzinga soon found himself winning awards at tournaments—first place novice speaker at one, and fifth place at another.
“At first it was really hard to get up and give an eight-minute speech off-the-cuff,” he grins. “I’d never done anything like that before.”
Thanks to the teaching skills of his captains, he quickly picked up the knack of speech-making.
“Yellis is just really funny. He delivers all the information we need, but in a humorous way,” says Elzinga.
Pradia also quickly found success, earning fourth place speaker when she and her partner decided to jump into Varsity division NEDA debate during her third tournament. She loves to talk. Her eyes grow bright; her hands gesticulate; and she draws you into discussion. Small wonder, then, that she found the debate team at Patrick Henry College a natural fit this fall, her first semester.
“It was interesting to have rules of argumentation and logic to apply to everyday life,” she explains. “It’s fascinating figuring out how to communicate and express myself better.”
Both freshmen plan to continue with debate in the future. As Pradia says, “People always say it’s just sophistry to be able to argue both sides of a resolution—but the interesting part for me has been seeing how different parts of the same statement look true from opposite directions. I can apply this to communicating the Gospel as well.”
The squad looks forward to the upcoming Spring debate season and gives thanks to God for the semester just completed.