March 6, 1997
Vol. 16, No. 12

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    Undebatable success

    Chicago invitational makes history in debate world For three days last weekend, the Chicago Debate Society made campus the center of the United States' debate universe as it hosted the First Annual NPDA/APDA Chicago Invitational Debate Tournament.

    The event marked the first time in American history that the two oldest and most important national debate associations in the country -- the American Parliamentary Debate Association and the National Parliamentary Debate Association -- have met in a no-holds-barred, tournament-style competition.

    "It was as exciting and important a milestone as the first Super Bowl," said Justin Jones, president of the Debate Society. The society is considered one of the top debate teams in the country. "Two dynasties, locked in combat for the first time, with bragging rights for the entire country up for grabs. I think everyone had a pretty good time."

    This was especially true for the team from Regis University in Denver, which won the tournament over Williams College in a heated final round in a packed Social Sciences 122 on Sunday.

    "What this means is that the NPDA debaters can claim national dominance," Jones said. "At least until next year's Chicago Invitational."

    Based on the British House of Commons, which pits "government" representatives against "opposition" members, parliamentary debate is "older than America itself," Jones said.

    "As the country grew to the west, so did debate. From the earliest debating societies at Harvard and Yale, through the establishment of the Debate Society at Chicago more than 60 years ago, to the explosion of recent debate activity in the Southwest, debate has always been based on the British parliamentary style."

    The American Parliamentary Debate Association is the representative organization for East Coast schools, including the Ivy League. Chicago, Stanford and the University of Virginia are also members of APDA, which was established in the early 1970s.

    The National Parliamentary Debate Association is the representative organization for "everything west of the Mississippi" and then some -- most West Coast colleges as well as many colleges in Florida and Louisiana, according to Jones. The NPDA, which includes public schools and community colleges as well as private schools, is "more inclusive than APDA," he said. Chicago is also a member of NPDA, which was established in the late 1970s.

    Both organizations attempt to maintain a "British" style -- lots of banging on tables, shouts of "here, here," interrupting speakers to score political points as well as to simply cause distractions, Jones said. But there are also key differences between the two groups.

    "Both are parliamentary," said Jones. "But APDA is run by college students and NPDA is run by professors. Most important, APDA is much looser and much more interested in the use and abuse of rhetoric, while NPDA is more policy-oriented.

    "For example," Jones explained, "APDA debaters might get a resolution as loose as 'Resolved: Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.' It's more of an idea to spark debate, rather than a specific topic. NPDA debaters might get the more issue-oriented 'Resolved: The state has the right to define what marriage means.'

    "Basically, APDA operates at a much more leisurely pace because it recognizes the demands of the college lifestyle -- that between classes and other activities, students really don't have the time or inclination to do the full-tilt research work that is the key to successful high school debate.

    "On the whole, though, parliamentary debate is more sophisticated than high school debate, where you spend all year debating one topic. It's a shift in focus from research to rhetoric, from memorization to argument."

    The head of APDA is always a fourth-year college student. This year it's Peter Stris from the University of Pennsylvania. The head of NPDA is always a professor, and this year it is Robert Trapp, professor of forensics at Willamette College.

    The Chicago Invitational was the result of the combined efforts of Jones, Stris and Trapp. The latter pair approached Jones with the idea, citing Chicago as an ideal location for both its geography and its reputation.

    And now, thanks to the Chicago invitational, Regis University -- an NPDA team -- can claim the title of the nation's best debate team. At least until next year's invitational.

    -- Jeff Makos