This past April, the Brooks Quimby Debate Council finished off the year with two national debate tournaments. The first was the British Parliamentary Nationals, hosted by the University of La Verne in California between April 12th and 14th. British Parliamentary debate features four, two-person teams. Two teams—“opening” and “closing”—take the “government” side, which argues in favor of a certain resolution (i.e., “this House would legalize gay marriage”). The other side, or “opposition,” likewise consists of two opening and closing teams that argue against the motion. Interestingly, while the two teams on a given side will both argue for or against the same motion, each team actually competes with the other on its side to see who can argue the same point better.
According to sophomore debater Matt Summers, Bates had a “phenomenal showing” at nationals. After the preliminary rounds, all teams are ranked depending on how they performed. A good performance in preliminaries is essentially because the competition is seeded. In other words, the better you do early on, the easier the rest of the tournament will be.
After the preliminaries, Summers and his partner, senior Eric Devaux, were in fifth position, followed by seniors Ben Smith and Cat Djang in sixth, and sophomore Taylor Blackburn and senior Virginia Flatow in seventh, out of 160 teams. The top 32 teams in the tournament advanced to the knockout rounds of the tournament. Each team then advanced to the quarterfinals, and Blackburn and Flatow even advanced to the semifinals. At this point, only eight teams remained in the competition, each fighting for a spot in the final round. In a terrific showing for Bates, Blackburn and Flatow lost in a narrow three-two decision—just one vote away from advancing to the final round of nationals.
But while Bates did not advance to the finals, Bates was not unrepresented in the last round of British Parliamentary Nationals. Loyola Marymount University graduate student and Bates alum, Colin Etnire, represented LMU in the final round and took home the second speaker award for the tournament. Summers was the seventh best speaker.
Fast-forward to American Parliamentary nationals held in late April at the University of Maryland at College Park, and the results were less favorable for Bates. American Parliamentary debate features two teams of two people facing off against each other. Unlike British Parliamentary, where neither team knows the resolution, the American style requires teams to write “cases” in advance. One side will then “propose” a motion, and the other side must oppose it on the spot.
In all, it seems Bates’ run at this national tournament was cut short prematurely by a questionable judging call. In the “bubble round”—a round in which a win will allow a team to “break” into the “out rounds”—Summers and Blackburn suffered from an “unfortunate decision” from a former debater turned judge. As Summers explained, “breaking” requires a certain number of wins and “speaker points,” or points awarded for individual performances. Blackburn and Summers were poised in this round to break as long as they beat their Brown University opponents and received speaker scores of 26 points or above. Speaker points have a de facto range between 23 and about 28. For varsity debaters in a national tournament, a score of 26 would be considered average.
Summers recalled that he and his partner “mopped the floor” with Brown and won the round. But when it came down to speaker scores, the story was different. To their surprise, the team received speaker scores of just 24—the average score for novice debaters. All scores are subjective, Summers explained, and a score of 24 might have reflected the average speaker score when the judge—a former debater—was himself debating five years ago. But in any case, the competition for Blackburn and Summers ended at that moment with a puzzling and disappointing speaker score. The duo—ranked eleventh nationally—finished the tournament 28th out of 77 teams.
Still, despite a somewhat disappointing finish at the American Parliamentary Nationals, Summers said that it was nonetheless a “terrific year for Bates, and an overall good finish”. Moreover, he noted that the BQDC will “sorely miss [its] senior class next year” as the team prepares for another run at the national title.
From Left: Ty Daly, Taylor Blackburn, Matt Summers, Cat Djang, Ben Smith, Chris Bolger, Taylor Stone, Sasha Grodsky, Shannon Griffin and Logan Pettinato at Stanford University COURTSEY PHOTO/BROOKS QUIMBY DEBATE COUNCIL