Against all odds, members of AMU’s St. Thomas More Debate Club were able to hold their heads high with pride as they traveled home from Colorado in early February after participating in an invitational parliamentary-style debate tournament. This was the first debate experience for the student-run club, which was founded in Fall 2016 and is entirely self-coached.
Augustine Payne, captain of the team, reported back after the event: “Many teams and coaches were excited to see us when they heard it was the first tournament for our team and that we were a student-run team.” Payne is a junior majoring in Economics. “It was a great experience for me and the rest of the team,” he went on. “We learned lots of new things and, as one judge put it, these little things will take us from being in the novice round to being junior debaters.”
[The four members of the St. Thomas More Debate Club who participated in the tournament at CCU, from left to right, Ambrose Bean, John Paul Harper, Gabriel Hogan, and Augustine Payne.]
Gabriel Hogan, one of the four students who participated in the tournament, likewise found the tournament environment supportive of their efforts: “Once people found out we were a coach-less club team with almost no training, they would give us some quick tips or advice of some kind.” Hogan is a freshman at AMU, and interested in majoring in Exercise Science or Health Science. “This kind of made me the odd ball at the tournament,” Hogan said, referring to his academic interests. He essentially “fell into” the club—agreeing to sit as a judge for one of the club’s debates when his friend, Payne, asked him. “Turns out that the day I went they were also short a few speakers, so I got to participate in a debate.” When the club needed another student so they could go to the tournament as two teams of two, they called on Hogan again. “I figured it would be a learning experience, useful, and a chance to get off campus and see Colorado, so I agreed.”
The four AMU students who participated in the 2017 Values & Capitalism National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) Invitational Tournament from February 3-4 divided into two teams and competed in the Novice Division, which was limited to students in their first year of debate. The topics of debate were drawn from policy issues related to the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Values & Capitalism project, such as anti-poverty policy, education policy, and financial policy. The event was jointly sponsored by AEI and Colorado Christian University.
Since this was the team’s first debate experience (previously, they had only debated against themselves), they were met with many challenges going into the tournament—from facing students from other universities who had much more training, to simply familiarizing themselves with the many technicalities involved. “After the first round, everyone started to get in the groove…and I feel like our game really improved from then on out,” Hogan said. “That was probably my favorite part—knowing that we came in as complete rookies, but we left with a much better sense of how we could improve in the future.”
Hogan—himself a complete rookie—managed to win an award for top speaker in the Novice Round. He received a standing ovation at the awards ceremony. “Among all four of us that went to Colorado,” freshman John Paul Harper said, “no one was expecting to bring home any hardware. So it was that much more of a joy to see a fellow teammate get recognized for his success.”
[Below, Gabriel Hogan holds his award for First Place Speaker in the Novice Division.]
Harper, who always wanted to join a debate team in high school but never found the time, has found in AMU’s debate club a perfect supplement to his college education. “The ability to think critically and present an argument that is clear is so vital to many of the courses that one will take at AMU—or even to life in general,” he remarked. “Being a part of a debate team helps develop these skills, which is why I greatly value the opportunity to participate in AMU’s St. Thomas More Debate Club.”
Ambrose Bean, a freshman majoring in Politics, came away from the tournament experience with the realization that debate is an art. “Even if you are 100% wrong, you can use the power of good rhetoric and eloquent speech to sound like you’re right, convince those in the room you are right, and essentially win the argument. Unfortunately, I discovered this on the receiving end for the most part. … It was annoying, but ultimately, all it did was hook me.” Bean is eager to continue working with the club and hone his public speaking skills. He, like the other members of the debate club, sees his involvement as going hand-in-hand with his AMU college education. “I think Ave is somewhat at the forefront of educating the Catholic religious freedom warriors of tomorrow. The students graduating from here will no doubt face a whole slew of challenges in regard to their faith’s compatibility with American politics. Debate club is preparing me for that battle.”
The club is still in its first year, but they have big plans for the future. They will continue to practice, train, and grow as a team, and seek out tournaments where they can gain more experience. “Our mission as the debate team,” club captain, Payne, explains, “is for the students to become better communicators, a skill they will use in everyday life. It is our goal to learn what is a sound argument and be able to convey it in a persuasive way.”