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Liberty News

Young Debate team on track for successful season with early wins against Harvard, Georgetown

October 11, 2019 : Logan Smith/Liberty University News Service

The Liberty University Debate team started the 2019-2020 debate season strongly, with the novice and junior varsity teams claiming victory in back-to-back tournaments in Georgia and New York.

“This season is by far the strongest start we’ve ever had to a season,” Director of Debate Michael Hall said.

“The team has put in a lot of work, and it is good to see them reaping the rewards with strong wins against teams from Harvard, Georgetown, Indiana, Kansas, and Michigan State,” said Nick Ryan, assistant director for debate. “It is a long season, but there is potential for them to have one of the best sophomore seasons in program history.”

The season started with three consecutive competitions at Georgia State, Binghamton University, and the University of Kentucky.

The six novice teams (comprised of mostly freshman debaters) and five junior varsity teams (mostly freshmen and sophomores) defeated competitors from Emory, Wake Forest, Indiana, Houston, James Madison, and George Mason.

At Binghamton in New York, the novice and junior varsity teams continued their winning streak, defeating teams from Cornell, NYU, the United States Naval Academy, Monmouth, and George Mason.

Hall said the early success is even more of an achievement considering how young the team is this year; out of the 24 students, over half are freshmen and there are no seniors.

“We’ve never had a team this young,” he said.  “We’ve had a few teams in the past without senior leadership, but those teams had a larger group of juniors and sophomores. With a team this young, I worry more about leadership than talent. We need students to lead our team toward a culture of excellence. The early results have been promising.”

Last year, a heavy senior roster led the team to top-three finishes in the final rankings of the American Debate Association (ADA), Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA), and National Debate Tournament (NDT). Recent graduates Brianna Thomas and Michael Harrington ended last season as one of the best two-partner debate teams in the nation.

“Last year, we entered the season with a large number of experienced debaters,” Hall said. “This year, we were optimistic that we had a team that would develop into a very good team. I just don’t think we anticipated that they would start as strongly out of the gates as they have.

“When you see our debaters in action, I think people assume that debate is just a mentally taxing activity, but it is also a physically taxing activity,” he added. “The process of standing and arguing and giving these speeches and doing these things over a two-hour period … each debate round is a very intense experience. There is a combination of physical exhaustion and mental wear and tear.”

The team will continue its season at the University of Mary Washington from today through Sunday.

Liberty’s Debate team remains the only team to finish first in the final rankings of the ADA, CEDA, and NDT in a single season, a feat that was accomplished nine times in the last 13 seasons.

At Liberty, Hall said participating in Debate has more benefits beyond competition.

“Debate is different than any other intercollegiate activity,” Hall said. “It has a strong educational goal. The point of debate is to make our students better critical thinkers, better researchers, better communicators. And we want that opportunity to be available to all of our students.”

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