Eric Rowe – Staff Writer
In its pilot year, the debate program at Dordt has been growing and gathering impetus. Over spring break, the Dordt debate team competed in their farthest away tournament yet: the National Christian College Forensics Invitational in Riverside, Calif., on March 8-10.
Dordt placed third in the novice parliamentary division and freshman Courtney De Wolde earned an individual 8th place speaker award.
With these wins, the debate team has brought home trophies from three of their five tournaments.
“There is a recognition across campus that this is providing real educational benefit to the students,” criminal justice professor and debate coach Donald Roth said. “It can be good for the students, the school and our image. It is something Dordt has potential to be good at.”
The national tournament is not something that Dordt had to build up a record to qualify for nor is it unusual for new teams to attend. Often college teams will compete locally during the school year and then compete in national tournaments towards the end of the year.
The National Christian College Forensics Association is just one league that offers the opportunity for colleges to compete. There are general rules and guidelines, but the structure and events that tournaments offer can differ from one association to another.
Dordt has only competed in parliamentary style debate, a style in which one team assumes the role of the “government,” suggesting a new policy that is related to a current event in the real world, while the other team represents the “opposition.” The “government’s” policy is based on a resolution that is new in each round.
A round is about an hour. During the first 15 minutes, both teams prepare their arguments. Then they give alternating speeches to support their position and rebut their opponent’s.
“It’s usually a logical format,” senior debate team member James Rylaarsdam said. The challenge is putting that format into words.
While debaters come with an entire team, they only compete with one partner.
“Because you have no idea what you are going to debate on before the round, it’s almost better not to have someone from your own field,” Rylaarsdam said.
Rylaarsdam went on to explain that having a broad range of interests is helpful because partners can fill in gaps in each other’s knowledge of certain subject matter.
Once, Rylaarsdam and his partner Michael Jansen were debating whether daylight savings time should be uninstituted. Jansen is from Arizona where they don’t follow daylight savings, so Rylaarsdam was able to inform him.
“Often I will take the economic side of things,” said Rylaarsdam. “And he will be able to take the political side.”
Usually a team is not allowed to use the Internet or take outside notes into their preparation time. The California tournament, however, did allow use of the Internet and also allowed the coach to help in this beginning stage.
Tournaments usually offer other events as well. When planning for the year, Roth originally looked into team policy debate. Policy is based on current events, but policy debaters prepare a case that they argue all year. This event is more research intensive than other forms of debate.
However, Roth decided on parliamentary debate because it offered the experiences of public speaking, thinking on your feet and preparing logical arguments with a time commitment that is much more manageable for the program at Dordt.
“We thought that was a better fit for what we wanted to do,” said Roth. “Policy lingo can get quite daunting.”
Another debate style is forensics, which includes individual events such as impromptu, an improvised speech with limited prep time, and interpretive, which is acting out a story.
“I would love to see this expand to something that would interest people in communication or theater arts,” Rylaarsdam said. “It’s not only debate at these competitions.”
Rylaarsdam’s favorite event to watch was “After Dinner Speaking,” which is similar to stand-up comedy. The object is to make an oddball point in a comedic light.
“It’s ridiculous,” Rylaarsdam said. “But you still have to cite your sources.”
In order to prepare for debates with other colleges, the Dordt debaters meet Thursday nights for a practice round competing with each other and Fridays at 11 a.m. to discuss current events.
The debate program is open to all students regardless of major. Not everyone is required to commit to fly to California during spring break or compete in local tournaments. Any student interested in current events is invited to spectate and take part in the Thursday and Friday discussions.
“The more diverse viewpoints that we bring together, the better it is,” Roth said.