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Debate Team Continues Its Streak of Success

By Drew Menard, October 11, 2017

Each story in this special feature section demonstrates a tenet of the “We The Champions” Declaration, part of a university-wide project that aims to tell the world how Liberty is fulfilling its mission of Training Champions for Christ.

We The Champions: Pursue Knowledge

Year after year, Liberty University’s Debate Team finds itself among the top collegiate programs in the country, more often than not as the national champion. Since the team’s first championship in 1995, Liberty has established itself as a debate powerhouse.

Last spring, Liberty finished atop the final national rankings of all three policy debate organizations in the country — the American Debate Association (ADA), the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA), and the National Debate Tournament (NDT) — for the ninth time. No other school has swept all three rankings even once.

While the championships continue to add up, the program is teaching students to pursue knowledge with fervor. Students are focused not only on earning trophies, but also on the goal of uncovering truths to some of the nation’s most pressing issues of the day.

Each year, all three national debate organizations agree on a topic. Last year’s tournaments centered on global warming. This year’s will be focused on whether government should be more or less involved in health care. Teams must be prepared to argue both sides of the issue.

“To be competitive and successful … takes a level of initiative that not everyone has,” said senior Jeleesa Omala, a varsity captain. She said being part of a team that has a winning tradition “definitely pushes you to be better; you want to add to this legacy.”

Past debaters have gone on to successful careers in academia, ministry, medical research, and law, including as a district attorney and as a clerk at the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Liberty’s debate program is headed by a coaching staff of six, most of whom have been with the university for a decade or more. They understand that in order for the program to succeed, Liberty must be competitive in all three divisions: novice, junior varsity, and varsity.

“They know how to make debaters into winners,” said senior Kristopher Samuel. “It has become very easy to win because they have created a culture of winning and have been consistent at it.”

Director of Debate Michael Hall has been involved with Liberty Debate for almost 30 years, starting in 1988, when he was a freshman on the team.

“(Debate) is a way for us to showcase the talent and intelligence of our students,” Hall said. “Liberty has debaters who compete successfully against Harvard, Berkeley, Northwestern, and Wake Forest — you start naming these schools and it raises eyebrows.”

Liberty will send a dozen or more competitors, in pairs, to any given tournament. There, each pair will debate four times per day, perhaps even more, with a single debate lasting approximately an hour and a half. Each of the four participants present an oral argument, respond to questions from the other team, then present a counter-argument. Teams earn points based on how well their top-performing pairs do at each tournament, which cumulate over the season; more points are available in the elimination rounds of a tournament than in the preliminary debates.

Behind the scenes, there is a lot of work that goes into preparing for a debate season. After the summer, returning competitors arrive on campus three weeks early to begin researching their arguments and engaging in practice debates.

1st Place National Rankings (by year, sweeps in bold)

ADA– 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017
CEDA2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
NDT– 1996, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017

To be involved in the “We The Champions” project and read more inspiring stories from the Liberty community, visit Liberty.edu/Champions and follow #WeTheChampions on social media.

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