Debate Team Gets Strong After Slow Start
First-year speakers reach finals
November 2, 2006 4:24 PM
Without the luxury of experience and without the safety of convention, the SF State debate team is hitting its stride after strong showings at their last two tournaments.
In their third tournament of the year, first-year debate members Stephanie Eisenberg, 23, and Jessica Whittle, 21, showed remarkable progress, reaching the finals of the Oct. 20 Pepperdine University Ray Buchanan Invitational tournament - their first national tournament.
The weekend before, in only their first pairing as debate partners, they reached the semi-finals at the Santa Rosa Invitational.
Eisenberg earned the top speaker award for her division at both tournaments – an award based on personal performance - and the teammates exorcized some demons by defeating a Sacramento, Calif., team at Pepperdine that beat them three times the weekend before.
“We got so much confidence from that, it carried us through the whole tournament,” Eisenberg said. “It was great to see the look on their faces.”
It is an impressive showing for a pair that had to make up ground after beginning the season behind many of their competitors.
“We had to learn the system while everybody else was in Arizona for two weeks,” Whittle said referring to a debate camp at Arizona State University where many debate teams begin their seasons researching and preparing.
Competing in the toughest division, teammates Danae Martinez, 31, and Aaron Fritsch, 22, showed strongly without one of the pillars of debate: research.
“We had no evidence,” Martinez said.
Instead, the teammates stressed their own thoughts and personal experience over experts and facts.
“The framework that is the norm is Eurocentric – speak super-fast and back it up with experts without being credible on your own,” Martinez said. “It’s over-logical.”
The pair considers debate a microcosm of policy making, which they believe relies too much on research and numbers instead of being upfront, Fritsch said.
“If we think about debate in a different way then we can think about politics in a different way,” Fritsch said.
Their style impressed the judges and both won speaker awards. Fritsch was awarded fourth, one of the best finishes for an SF State student at a national tournament in recent years. Martinez earned 13th at her first tournament.
Their style and success are striking when compared to the research-heavy tactics of some other universities.
Many debate teams haul around huge tubs full of research files and arguments. Teams like Whitman College have 40 people researching, including graduate students, said veteran debate team member Vince Alvarez, 21.
Fritsch and Danae defeated a Whitman team on their way to a 3-3 record.
“We have to be more innovative. Even if I could work 24 hours a day, I could never do as much research as 40 people,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez and Jeff Martin, 22, showed well at Pepperdine and reached the finals of the Santa Rosa Invitational going undefeated before losing a split decision in the finals.
Their next tournament will be on Nov. 4 at Cal State Northridge.
“Hopefully people will come to these things, especially people of color, and they will see that you can devise your own framework and bring about another way of thinking,” Martinez said.
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