It’s 6:30 a.m. Seventeen people pile into two rental vans, rubbing the last vestiges of sleep from the corners of their eyes. It becomes tougher to focus as reality sets in: another 15 hours of grueling work lie ahead. It’s a Sunday, but there’s no time for relaxing with a book, calling the family to catch up or watching a favorite NFL team. Twelve students and five coaches focus their willpower solely on the task at hand. Mentally and physically, this will be one of the most grueling days of their lives.

This isn’t Friday Night Lights. There are no stadiums, bright lights, scoreboards, cheerleaders or fans waiting at the end of this van ride. There’s only another college campus somewhere across the country. Georgetown debaters will spend the entire day and two more like it in groups of five: a two-person team from Georgetown, a two-person team from another school and a judge who must sort out the arguments and decide a winner and a loser.

Intercollegiate debate has evolved. To many, debate conjures up images of young collegians sporting full suits, honing their oratorical skills while attempting to sway the views of large crowds on a wide range of issues. No longer. Intercollegiate debate today is heavily focused on research and intensive expertise. Over the course of each year-long topic, the average debater does enough research to write a doctoral dissertation. In an extremely competitive environment, debaters and coaches spend dozens of hours each week preparing for tournaments. That emotional connection is on full display with each win and each loss.

Georgetown debaters have an extra investment in each win and loss. We’re collectively rebuilding a legacy. Georgetown debate was once the premier program in the nation. Over the decades, the program fluctuated in both success and participation. In 2011, it’s safe to say that Georgetown debate has been revitalized. We have the privilege of being an extremely young team, made up only of freshmen and sophomores. We have one of the best coaching staffs in the nation. Our efforts were partially rewarded this Tuesday, when a poll of national debate coaches ranked Georgetown as the top team in the country.

If there is one thing we hope to impress on The Hoya’s readers, it’s definitely not that we deserve a cadre of fans or a spot next to the basketball team at Midnight Madness. (Frankly, that would be embarrassing; none of us can run very fast.) Instead, we want to communicate that debate is a life-changing commitment. That’s true not only because of the huge time investment, but because competitive debate is one the few places left in American public discourse where all voices and arguments receive consideration. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else, evidence and logic trump ad hominems and soundbites, so that students have a competitive incentive to practice the most valuable skills they will need for the future.

We’re honored to represent our community every weekend at debate tournaments. We are equally honored to represent debate every week at Georgetown. We hope that debate will be promoted and supported vigorously, so that it can enrich the education of future Georgetown students in the same way that it continues to enhance ours.

 

Andrew Markoff is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service and Taylor Coles is a freshman in the College. Both are participants in the Georgetown Debate Program.

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