IN THE SPOTLIGHT
CU Debate Team Captures National Championship
The CU-Boulder debate team won the national championship at the country’s most prestigious collegiate debate contest, the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence, in March. CU-Boulder’s winning two-person team, juniors William Van Treuren and Than Hedman, bested the University of Oregon in a unanimous 7-0 decision at host school Asuza Pacific University during the three-day competition.
Their championship trophy, which volunteer coach Nathan Jeffries described as “only slightly smaller than the Stanley Cup” will reside in the debaters’ Boulder home for the time being. It is the first national title for CU’s debate team, and somewhat of a Cinderella story for the young group, which has no paid coaches and practices in various unoccupied classrooms in the Humanities Building.
Sixty-four of the country’s top ranked university and college debate teams competed in the invitation only event. In their winning round, Van Treuren and Hedman argued against the following resolution: “The United States Supreme Court should eliminate the ‘plain view exception’ for searches of personal computers.”
“Debate is strategy and knowledge, like a combination of chess, current events and world politics,” said CU law student and team co-founder, Scott Weaver. Logic, research, speed, and ability to communicate convincingly are the most critical skills in college debate. Rounds last approximately 50 minutes, with the two, two-person teams alternating their arguments and rebuttals.
As on-campus teams go, the debate team is small – fewer than a dozen full time, committed debaters. Until 2008 the CU Debate Team was self-supporting, and last year they received roughly $18,000 from the Student Activities Fund, which made it possible to continue to represent CU, and perhaps provided the extra boost that put them in first place this year.
“Now, we’re hoping to increase the team’s profile on campus,” said Hedman. The debate team would also like to recruit a faculty adviser and a regular coach. They have been very lucky to receive the help of two dedicated former debaters, CU team co-founders Jeffries and Weaver.
The CU debaters traveled to Lubbock, Texas to compete in the National Parliamentary Debate Association finals, a competition involving more than 180 teams from over 100 schools. Hedman and Van Treuren placed third. Van Treuren also brought home the “best speaker” award for the most effective individual debater. From Lubbock, the CU team flew to Los Angeles, where members prepared for the NPTE at Asuza Pacific University with financial support from the CU Student Organizations Finance Office (SOFO).
Nathan Jeffries and Rachelle Harris, who have since graduated from CU, started the team in their respective dorm rooms in 2006, recruiting other former high school debaters. Both are still actively involved in the debate community; Harris coaches at the University of Puget Sound and Jeffries helps the CU team as he prepares for law school in the fall.
It’s often assumed that debaters go on to become trial lawyers, but few of the current CU team members plan to go into law. Most of them debate because they love the mental stimulation it provides. Debaters have to be current on topics ranging from South African politics to Iran’s nuclear ambitions to America’s offshore drilling politics. More importantly, they have to be excellent researchers, communicators and critical thinkers.
“We know how to navigate vast quantities of information,” said Van Treuren. “We may not plan to be courtroom lawyers, but we’ll certainly be effective communicators in whatever we do and that’s never a bad thing.”
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