As the sun was setting through the windows off a small classroom in Cabrillo Hall last week, the PLNU debate team gathered for their first practice of the spring semester. The conversation was light, the confidence in the room was very high and for good reason. According to the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA), PLNU was ranked number one in the nation through the fall, topping schools such as Texas Tech University, UC Berkeley and Rice University.
PLNU’s debate team is no stranger to this feeling, though. In fact, this kind of success has been going on ever since the NPDA started keeping track of scores in 1996. The debate team handbook notes that PLNU is ranked number one in NPDA University yearlong sweepstakes wins by a 35% margin over second-place El Camino College.
Graduate student Caleb Moore is currently a coach for the team while he gets his Master of Arts in teaching. Beginning as a debater himself, he now gets the opportunity to help the future of the team.
“The team often takes on students with little to no debate experience with some veterans mixed in,” said Moore. “I think that the combination of new talent and people who have been around the block creates a nice mix of hunger for success and the mentors that are necessary to make that success possible.”
Skip Rutledge, Director of Forensics, credits graduate students like Moore, and the upperclassmen as their secret to building successful teams year after year.
“A big part of our continued success is the people who are pouring themselves into the program both as students helping other students, and the ones who come back after graduating,” said Rutledge. “We hope that the seniors are investing themselves in the juniors who are investing themselves in the novice. This provides a foundation that students can build on for subsequent debates.”
Rutledge also noted that this type of help maintains the competitive edge he and the other coaches look for in debaters. During a debate each team is only given 15 minutes to research their particular topic. Other than that, there is no prior knowledge to what might be discussed. The debaters need to be on their toes.
“A motto I took on as a coach at the beginning of the year is to get that extra 5% necessary to be as successful as possible,” said Moore. “Each individual has things that they are good at and things they can improve on. I think overall every team could deal to be more prepared and have deeper research files to pull from during a tournament.”
Montana Massone, a senior political science major, knows what it takes to be a good debater, and her passion comes naturally.
“Preparing for debate mostly consists of reading the news and staying up to date on what is going on in the world,” said Massone. “I grew up very political, so I love that I get to debate and engage in complex policy areas. I recommend this activity to everyone. It teaches you a lot about what is going on around the world and allows you to be more effective in communicating your ideas.”
PLNU’s debate team will see its first bout of the semester on Jan. 27 at Concordia University. Their next home event will take place Feb. 10-11.