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Evangel’s new debate team takes first place in first tournament

November 8, 2013 | Ian Richardson


For Evangel University’s debate team, October 27, 2013 was a day of firsts: first year, first tournament and, for two first-time competitors, first place.

Freshmen Samuel Montgomery and Savannah Whipple, both of whom had no debate experience prior to this semester, took home first-place trophies from the team debate competition at the Golden Eagle Invitational, held at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.

Montgomery and Whipple comprised one of two Evangel pairs competing in the tournament, which was the first for Evangel’s brand-new debate team.

Coached by Dr. Joy Qualls, assistant professor of communication, debate is a new addition to Evangel’s forensics team this year. The debate team is competing in the international public style of debate, in which two teams of two choose a statement to debate, one arguing for the topic and the other arguing against it. The teams prepare for 30 minutes and then debate their points in front of a panel of judges directly afterward.

“It makes you think on your feet,” Montgomery says. “I always like the idea of advancing a point and having to rebound off of counterarguments that other people come up with. And it gets really fun when you have to come up with an argument for something that you do not believe at all.”

The eight-team tournament consisted of four initial rounds, in which teams competed to qualify for the semifinal rounds. Montgomery and Whipple’s team went 3-1 and went on to the semifinals to face the team from Kansas Wesleyan University that had previously beat them in the opening round and gone 4-0 up to that point. After defeating them, Montgomery and Whipple edged out another Kansas Wesleyan team in the finals.

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Dr. Joy Qualls is the coach of Evangel’s debate team.

The other Evangel team, comprised of seniors Anna Lester and Erin-Rae Donaldson, finished 1-3 in the initial set of rounds.

Montgomery says he had originally planned on joining the forensics team because he wants to work on his public speaking skills in preparation to go into the ministry. However, when he learned the debate team needed another person to make the numbers even – debate teams consist of two players each – he decided to join.

Whipple also did not participate in debate during high school, but she decided to give the new team at Evangel a shot. She says she soon found that debate was out of her comfort zone, and that the initial round of the tournament was a struggle.

“I was a nervous wreck when we got to the tournament,” she says. “I could barely speak, and I was very close to breaking down completely.”

However, Whipple says Sam’s and encouragement helped her as the rounds went on.

“His confidence that we could only get better made me relax enough to start having fun,” she says. The win took me by surprise. I knew Sam and I were improving as the tournament went on, but I did not expect to win. I was ecstatic.”

This was also Qualls’ first tournament as a debate coach. She previously competed for eight years on her high school and college debate teams. Qualls says that after taking time away from competition, it feels good to be back — although it’s different being on the coaching side of it.

“I love it. I think it’s such a valuable activity,” Qualls says. “It is competitive, it’s fun, it’s exhausting, it feels really good to win and it’s hard to lose. But at the same time, I just think it’s incredibly academic as well, and so it brought back a lot of good memories for me. It’s fun to be back in that world.”

Montgomery says Qualls’ coaching proved instrumental during the tournament, her knowledge and patience making a difference as the team continued through the rounds.

“She was really good at coaching us,” he says. “She gave us some really good groundwork arguments for the semifinal and final rounds that I don’t think we would have been as on par without.”

Montgomery encourages other students to join the debate team, especially those interested in building their oratory skills. He says other advantages include scholarships and the fun involved. Whipple agrees. “I would definitely recommend debate to others,” she says. “It is fun, it improves your communication skills and you get to argue with people.”

Qualls says the team has more prospects for travel in the spring semester, including a national Christian college tournament in California and an international competition in Paris.

“We’re anticipating building the program to where we travel a little bit more and do more things, but we’re starting out small in order not to overwhelm any of us,” Qualls says. “Hopefully with some more success like we’ve having here, we can encourage others to be a part of the team, which would allow us to do a bit more travel and things of that nature.”

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