Highly Specialized Game has Insular Appeal
March 24, 2005 4:28 PM
SF State hosted the national championship tournament of the Cross Examination Debate Association March 19-22. Top debaters were determined following grueling testimony.
The 34th CEDA championship culminated in the splendor of the Peninsula Grand Ballroom of the SFO Hyatt Regency Hotel. But to get to the grand finale, over 100 two-member teams from universities across the nation competed in preliminary trials of eight rounds each taking place in Burk Hall and the Humanities building.
This year’s topic, selected in August by the CEDA governing board to allowing debaters time for research, focused on fossil fuels with a resolution deciding whether the U.S. government should form a conservation policy to reduce non-governmental oil use.
The 64 teams posting at least a 5-3 record in the preliminary rounds proceeded to the elimination rounds. SF State fielded four teams, with the team of Aaron Fritsch and Vince Alvarez just missing the cutoff at 4-4.
“Competitive debate provides a forum at an advanced level to explain how things work in the world,” said Fritsch, a speech and communications junior. He added that he wants to attend law school and eventually work for the American Civil Liberties Union.
“(Debate) opens up your learning opportunities to forms of thought that may not be offered by university classes,” said Alvarez, a sophomore who majors in political science.
“I have read more and learned more for debate, specifically in critical theory and literature, not ordinarily learned in class,” said Litzky, a speech communications senior.
Because debaters speak very quickly, it is not a spectator-friendly competition. The format allows two opposing teams - one argues in the affirmative, proposing or praising a plan, and the other argues in the negative, criticizing the plan or claiming it will not work as promised.
The first four speeches, each up to nine minutes, are called constructive speeches. Each is followed by a three-minute cross examination. The debate is concluded with two six-minute rebuttal speeches by each side.
The preliminary debates are scored by one judge each, while eliminations have three judges, and the final has nine. There is no collaboration among judges, to avoid influencing one another or the possibility of a ‘power pull’ of the majority to sway the minority.
As the affirmative side delivers each speech, the negative side collects the text of their completed arguments at the podium to examine if evidence is as good as they claim and check for consistency.
Constructive speeches may include verbatim passages of source texts that include newspapers, magazines, technical journals or books on philosophy, government or social sciences. The more current a source publication, the stronger the argument. Rebuttals are almost completely extemporaneous, responding to the opponents’ claims. While one side is speaking, opponents jot down copious notes or rifle through a small library of portfolios full of source texts that can refute an opponent‘s argument.
“We make arguments during tournaments that (competitive debate) should be more accessible,” said Brownlow. “One of the ways to make debate more accessible is to slow down the pace of the arguments. But (debate) has made me a better public speaker and … made me think much quicker on my feet."
Litzky stressed how much debaters enjoy the camaraderie of all team members including those of other universities. But she noted there is a competitiveness similar to sports.
“Before and after a round you can be very friendly with opponents, because there’s this sense of community," she said. "But once the tournament begins, it’s all business. If personal politics is involved, it sometimes can get very heated.”
Ryan Galloway, one of three judges who unanimously chose the Whitman College team, which knocked out SF State's Litzky and Brownlow from the elimination rounds, said the debate was "nail-bitingly close ... all speeches 'A+'."
Teddy Albiniak is a speech and communications graduate student and an assistant debate coach for SF State. He explained that debate cannot be simplified without doing the activity an injustice because of the complexity of debate's nuances (a judge's philosophy, the debaters’ style and their political arguments).
"It's the antithesis of 'Hardball' (a political talk show on MSNBC) because there's a comparison of arguments, a plethora of voices and not just political sound bites," said Albiniak.
In the championship debate, UC Berkeley junior Craig Wickersham and senior Stacy Nathan defeated
Shawn Whalen, an SF State lecturer in speech and communication, past president of the CEDA and the organizer of this year's tournament, thanked Dean of Humanities Paul Sherwin and Speech and Communications Department Chair Gerianne Merrigan. Without their help, Whalen said, the tournament would not have been possible.
"I think if you talk to any student in debate, (they will tell you) it is one of the most important things they've ever done," said Whalen.
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