By Samantha Gebert
Patrick Henry College
Conquering the “Debate Stigma:” Debaters look forward to a new semester
Nathanael Yellis, Debate Coach
Freshmen make up about one-third of the team this semester, many of whom attended PHC’s debate camps or debated in National Christian Forensics and Communication Association (NCFCA). This year, they and the rest of the team will benefit from a new league, the National Forensics Association (NFA), which the College has joined to accommodate the growth in membership. Senior Isaiah McPeak serves as head coach. Under him, senior Kawika Vellalos coaches parliamentary debate; Nathanael Yellis, senior, coaches the National Educational Debate Association (NEDA) league; and sophomore Kyndra Jamison coaches the new NFA league.
Debate meetings are a lot of fun this year, Rachel Blum, who speaks in two debate leagues and in moot court, said. Each meeting, students gather for a short, “Yellis-style” presentation, which communicates clear expectations and guidelines, tailored to accommodate the attention span of even an eight-year-old. The team then splits into break-out groups led by experienced debaters. These groups involve a lot of individual interaction, and debaters can more easily brainstorm, practice, and come up with arguments together.
“The new structure has vastly improved the effectiveness and fun factor of meetings,” Blum said. “Debate’s very organized now, whereas before it was more of a floating institution passing from leader to leader.”
However, the new influx of debaters makes it necessary for PHC to join a new debate league, the NFA. Spearheaded by Jamison, participation in this bigger league will give PHC more credibility in the debate world, though winning will be more difficult. Because the league is more intense, breaking into out-rounds will be an accomplishment.
Another way the debate team has been coping with the new arrivals was the new intramural tournament in late September. Not only did the tournament help weed out which of the 60 people could go to a 12-team tournament, but it “was an attempt to bring debate to campus in a non-confrontational, non-scary way,” Blum said. The tournament was similar to parliamentary debate, with the topics—campus-related, or involving prominent current events—released 20 minutes prior to each round.
Blum said she has huge expectations for this semester, and, with the continuing improvements to and evolution of the team, the future of debate looks promising.
“Still,” Blum commented, “I think the important thing here at PHC is that academics remain the main focus for students, and extracurriculars are truly extra.”