Debate team rises
Bowdoin's collegiate debate team had another excellent showing
this week at - wait, what? Bowdoin has a debate team?
That surprise is the general reaction to Bowdoin'd debate
team this year, and it is a reaction that the debaters will be trying
to change Homecoming weekend, when Bowdoin debate hosts its first tournament
in almost 50 years.
"Bowdoin debate has been non-existent for a long time,"
said tournament director Sarah Yantokosol. "This is a chance to showcase
just how far its come in such a short time."
Having gone from non-existent to a team that has placed
at every tournament they've attended, Bowdoin debate has indeed come an
extremely long way from where it was when President Ali Rau '04 resurrected
it from an extended dormancy last year.
A debate captain in high school, Rau first realized that
Bowdoin had no team only at last year's student activities fair. "I
had been excited to debate at the collegiate level, and so when I saw
we had no team I went up to Burgie [Howard]. He gave me $75 and an account
number, and I went from there."
Rau began to hold meetings with the help of Frank Skornia
and advisor Sarah Chingos, even though none of them knew how debate was
run on the college circuit.
The team's vice president, Lindsay Richman, another veteran
of high school debate, joined the squad last January. With the help of
veteran Bates debater John Ziegler, the two discovered the American Parliamentary
Debate Association (APDA) and readied themselves for competition against
established teams such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
"We walked into our first round at [the tournament
at] Wellesley and we had no idea what we were doing," Rau laughed.
"We learned as the tournament went along, though, and we ended up
ranking. I guess you could say we had a favorable learning curve."
Due to little initial support, however, debate was unable
to take off until this year.
"It's been a huge surprise. I've been very impressed
with the amount of student enthusiasm we've been getting," said Richman.
Where maybe 4 or 5 students attended debate meetings last year, there
are almost 20 regular members on this year's squad.
"It's been pretty amazing," Rau agrees. "Not
only have the turnouts been great, but we've gotten a lot of help from
the activities board. Last year we had 75 dollars for the entire year,
but now we've been blessed with almost $1,500 a month!"
Still, the challenges seem overwhelming. On APDA, the all-novice
Bowdoin team competes with schools such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
Most are established teams with over 50 members and some have endowments
of millions of dollars. "Other teams have talented older members
who can teach the novices, but Lindsay and I have had to learn with the
new debaters," Rau said.
Luckily, Rau was able to find a teacher in coach Phil Hansen,
who brings an enormous amount of debate experience to the team. A former
Bowdoin debater and Class of '64 Graduate, Hansen founded the Debate Association
of New England Independent Schools while a teacher at the Roxbury Latin
School in Boston. Now retired and living in Maine, Hansen was eager to
volunteer his services to his Alma Mater. "It really worked like
clockwork," Rau said.
With all of its newfound support, Bowdoin teams have drawn
heads by ranking at every tournament they've competed in. Recently, at
a Harvard Invitational that had over 350 competitors from schools all
over the nation, the team of Richman and first-year Matthew Spooner ranked
4th out of over 120 novice teams.
"Bowdoin is finally making a name for itself,"
The tournament will begin this Saturday at 12:30 in Smith
Auditorium, and rounds will continue throughout the day in Sills Hall.
Any students, faculty, and alumni who are interested are encouraged to
observe the competition at any point during the afternoon.