The previous sentence was written in the format used by students who compete in the state debate tournament. I visited this competition for the first time on Friday, and I was amazed at how quickly the competitors speak. That’s because they want to provide as much information for the judges in the time allowed, and talking slowly would simply be a waste of time.
Here’s that opening sentence again, presented at normal speed: The state debate tournament is a very unique event but describing it can be difficult.
The debate tournament was held in classrooms at Blegen Hall on the University of Minnesota campus. And I’ll be honest: I had a very hard time understanding what was being said in both divisions of the state tournament. The Policy Debate division consists of two-person teams, while Lincoln-Douglas is a one vs. one format. I don’t know if one in 10 words was understandable to me, so I would make a very bad judge. I was amazed at the judges’ ability to understand what was being said. But the judges and competitors work so hard at this activity that I’m sure they become accustomed to the rapid-fire pace.
This year’s Lincoln-Douglas debate topic is “Resolved: In the United States, juveniles charged with violent felonies ought to be treated as adults in the criminal justice system.”
The topic for Policy Debate is “Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially reduce its military and/or police presence in one or more of the following: South Korea, Japan, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey.”
I sat in on several sessions Friday. There were four rounds of debates Friday, with two more rounds on Saturday before the quarterfinalists are determined. Then come semifinals and finals.
Here are few observations, jotted down in my notebook …
--I heard references to “The Colbert Report” and “Star Wars.”
--Some students were dressed to the nines. I saw males in black suits and red ties (perfect for a courtroom) and females in very nice dresses. I also saw competitors wearing jeans, hoodies and tennis shoes. My impression? The arguments you make are far more important than how you look.
--Timing is everything. Every competitor and judge carries a small timer or uses a stopwatch application on their cell phone. Each segment of each debate is under a time frame. It was interesting to hear five timers/stopwatches beep at once when a time limit was reached.
--Everybody also had a laptop computer. I was told that not long ago the students hauled around large boxes of files, with all the necessary information available at their fingertips. It’s still at their fingertips, but it’s now stored inside computers and flash drives. But some students still had plastic containers that carried information on paper.
--There isn’t much of a spectator aspect to debate, at least in the preliminary rounds. At the state speech tournament, many classrooms are overloaded with spectators. That was not the case Friday. Other than the debaters and judges, there were one or two other people in the room. During one debate, a sleepy spectator sprawled out on the floor and took a nap.
--There is a lot of gasping for air. The students speak so rapidly that taking in oxygen seems like a waste of time. So they talk as quickly as possible, pause just long enough to gulp in some air and continue with the machine-gun style of speaking.
--Between rounds, students and their coaches met in the hallways, talking strategy and how to handle upcoming rounds. Pizza was available for sale. A lounge for the judges offered snacks, box lunches and soft drinks (including my favorite beverage).
--A question I jotted down: “How much time is spent on researching the facts of the topic and how much time is spent on perfecting the rapid style of speaking?”
--I was never involved in debate when I was in high school. One of our teachers was interested in starting a debate team, and on a Saturday he convinced me and three other students to travel with him to a debate tournament about 30 miles away. We watched, we observed, we took everything in. As soon as we walked out of the school where the tournament was held, my buddies agreed with what I was saying in my head: “I’m not nearly smart enough to do that.”
Diet Coke Count: 2
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BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 320
*Miles John has driven: 6,811
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