I remember those days. The atmosphere was hot and intense.
We stood like warriors with our game faces on, ready to conquer.
The boys straightened and tightened their ties, pulling them
close to their Adam's apples. The girls flattened their collars
and adjusted their skirts.
Our pens and pads, quick tongues and spontaneous minds were our game gear. The offensive game plan was to trap our opponents by giving them a taste of their own medicine. Our defensive game plan was never to let down our guards and, most important, never be trapped.
We never broke a sweat. We never got dirty. We never engaged in physical contact. And we never came out of a match with a scratch or scar. Our competition was not about having physical agility or amazing athletic prowess.
We were debaters.
And just like athletes, I and my high school debate teammates practiced, hustled and had the utmost desire to win. We did not compete to score baskets or goals. But after each debate match or tournament we knew that we had accumulated more than just points; we gained more knowledge about the game of life.
Some people would not think of debating as a sport. But don't tell that to Rebecca Justice, who is the president of the Johns Hopkins Debate Club, or the other 40 members who practice five days a week and travel each weekend to competitions.
"We have practice rounds for one hour each day," Justice says. "We don't consider ourselves athletes, but we still have the same kind of camaraderie. Sometimes we get really intense and very serious. We argue, and we yell at each other. But we still maintain our levels of friendship."
The team has developed a good hierarchial system. "There are no coaches for this team," Justice says. "We are not influenced by the opinions and advice of adults. We wrestle with problems and find solutions on our own. The upperclassmen take the freshmen and newcomers under their wings. They are taught to observe, and they learn the ropes."
The Debate Club, started by Woodrow Wilson near the turn of the century, is having its best season, for the first time placing among the top five in their rankings.
The team participates in parliamentary debate, kind of a copy of the old English style of debate. Unlike other styles of debate, in which teams know and thoroughly research topics beforehand, parliamentary-style debaters never know what topic will be thrown at them until the match.
American parliamentary debate is a contest of reason, wit and rhetorical skill which simulates debate in a theoretical House of Parliament. Two teams of two debaters each represent the government and the opposition. These teams consider a resolution proposed by the speaker of the House, who also serves as the judge for the round. The two-person teams are allotted 10 minutes to review the topic and then are given eight minutes to deliver a case in its favor. The opposition counters for eight minutes, and then each team is allowed an eight-minute reaffirmation speech, followed by two four-minute rebuttals. Speaker points and ranks from one to four are awarded to each individual based upon each speaker's persuasive ability, wit, analysis and organization.
To be a good debater, Justice says, one has to have an open mind, a strong like for people and the ability to speak well. One has to be aware of contemporary issues and the changing society. Most important, a good debater must be sharp, quick, aggressive and intense.
Earlier this month the team returned to Hopkins from the World University Debating Championships in South Africa, a trip funded in part by the university and alumni. Teams from the Philippines, Australia, Singapore, Africa and several European countries attended the competition. Among the topics of debate were issues concerning democracy, developing nations, feminism, the American budget, the Constitution and the legalization of prostitution.
"Going to South Africa was a great experience," Justice says. "It is always good to travel outside the United States and see how other people do things differently. The other countries have a totally different debating style from Americans. It is very difficult for American teams to compete in foreign tournaments. But the experience is rewarding in the end."
Hopkins will host the sixth annual North American Parliamentary Championships from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 at Shriver Hall on the Homewood campus. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) will deliver the keynote address, which begins at 3 p.m. on Jan. 31. The final round is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Feb. 2.
One hundred four teams from all over the United States and Canada will compete in six preliminary rounds to determine who will advance to the quarterfinal, semifinal and final rounds. The tournament is hosted in the United States once every other year. The winner of the tournament will receive the North American debate title.
North Americans bring together three debating circuits-- National Parliamentary Debate Association, Canadian Universities Society of Intercollegiate Debate and the American Parliamentary Debate Association. Justice, who is a senior and international relations major, will be spending a lot of time coaching and preparing her team for this exciting showdown.
Much support is given to the team by alumni, many of whom will be returning as judges for the upcoming tournament. Donations are also made by alumni to help the team with travel expenses.
"We form long and lasting friendships with our teammates and the alumni," Justice says. "The team dynamics that we have are so strong, and that is what holds us together and is the key to our success.
"This is my last year, and I want to make certain that I teach all I can to our freshmen so that they can be the best debaters. I want to see them win, have fun and love what they do," Justice says.
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