UNT students preparing for National Debate Tournament

Monday, March 11, 2013 - 21:03

DENTON (UNT), Texas — While other University of North Texas students are spending their spring break traveling, seeing family members and catching up on sleep, TV and movies, Colin Quinn is checking Google Alert every day for the latest news about nuclear power. At 11 a.m., he goes to a UNT classroom to argue why nuclear power is a positive form of energy for the U.S.

Quinn, a junior communication studies major from Glenview, Ill., is one of four UNT students who are preparing for this year’s National Debate Tournament — the most prestigious tournament in competitive policy debate for U.S. college and university students.

This year’s tournament will be held March 28-April 1 at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. Quinn expects to spend as much as nine hours a day during UNT’s spring break, March 11-15, preparing for the tournament with his debate partner, junior political science major Hunter McCullough from Joshua, and the other team of Shelby Pryor, a senior political science major from Grapevine, and Brian Kersch, a junior communication studies major from Austin. At least one team of two students from UNT’s Debate Team has represented the university at the tournament 28 times in the last 31 years.

The four students will practice their opening arguments, revise their previous speeches from other tournaments, discuss strategies and do simulated debates. Their opponents in the mock debates will be Brian Lain, UNT associate professor of communication studies and director of debate; Louie Petit, assistant director of debate; assistant debate coach Andy Casey; and two graduate students who were competitive policy debaters.

The National Debate Tournament is both the sanctioning body for college and university policy district debate tournaments and the national championship tournament. The championship tournament began in 1947 and is open to 74 two-person teams. Fifty-eight of the teams qualify for the tournament by placing among the top 10 teams in their district tournaments, while 16 teams receive at-large bids based on their performances at tournaments held throughout the academic year.

The topic for the 2013 National Debate Tournament, and all NDT-sanctioned tournaments this past academic year, is whether or not the U.S. government should substantially reduce restrictions on, or substantially increase financial incentives for, coal, crude oil, natural gas, nuclear power, solar power or wind power production. Students must argue both the positive and negative sides. 

With such a detailed topic, “the debates are a lot less about actual speeches and a lot more about research and thinking on your feet,” McCullough said.

“I think that when many people picture a debate, they think of a couple of people in suites standing at podiums and giving heartfelt speech. Competitive policy debate is much different because even though you may have had plenty of time to research the topic, a person on the other team may always bring up a scenario you haven’t thought of, and then you need to come up with a new position.”

Pryor said for this year’s topic, she and other UNT Debate Team members have received valuable insight into the topic from research of faculty members in UNT’s Department of Philosophy and Religion and the Institute of Applied Sciences.

“It’s good to have a critical focus on the environment when you start preparing both the pros and the cons, and your arguments evolve during the academic year because of current events. You may read something that could be a new negative or positive,” she said.

As coaches of sports teams study the strategies of opponents, UNT’s debate students study how the top 25 to 50 collegiate teams in the U.S. have argued the topic in past competitions.

“For the National Debate Tournament, I’m looking to say something new,” said Quinn.

Quinn and McCullough qualified by placing fourth at the District Three Debate Tournament, which is open to college and university debate programs in Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Oklahoma as well as Texas. Quinn, and McCullough also qualified for the 2013 Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament, which will be held March 18-25 at Idaho State University and have the same topic as the National Debate Tournament.

Pryor and Kersch qualified for the National Debate Tournament by placing ninth at the District Three Debate Tournament. The two are returning to the national tournament for a second straight year. During the 2012 tournament, they placed among the 32 top teams after reaching the elimination rounds. They also participated in the 2012 CEDA Tournament.

Quinn also participated in both the 2012 National Debate Tournament and the 2012 CEDA Tournament with another partner. He placed among the top eight teams in the CEDA Tournament.

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