Coming back to campus with very unusual trophies — a brain on a platter and a gravestone — the Hillsdale College debate team surpassed its expectations this weekend at Bowling Green State University’s “Night of the Living Dead”-themed tournament.
With topics including whether the United States government should contain the outbreak of zombies, the prevention of nuclear proliferation, weapons sales to Taiwan to Medicare, the team had to think metaphorically in order to have success at the tournament.
“Our team did not dress up, and neither did most of the other competitors, but the host school’s team and staff did,” said debate coach Matthew Doggett, assistant professor of speech.
“It was a very fun and interesting tournament. It really challenged our team members to think outside of the box.”
The tournament was a swing, meaning there were two separate competitions on Saturday and Sunday both.
On Saturday, Feb. 25, the team won second place in overall debate sweepstakes. Senior Elliot Gaiser took second in open Lincoln-Douglas debate. Junior Bryan Brooks and his partner, sophomore Ian Hanchett, also took second in open parliamentary debate.
On Sunday, Feb. 26, the team placed first in debate sweepstakes. Hillsdale constituted three of the four semifinalists in Lincoln-Douglas. Brooks, Hanchett, and sophomore Jonathan Slonim closed out the round by winning first, second, and third place.
“When they close out they just give us the awards because two members from the same team cannot compete against one another,” Doggett said. “It doesn’t matter who gets first, as long as someone from Hillsdale gets it, of course.”
Gaiser and his partner, sophomore Lauren Holt, won first place in open parliamentary debate. This was their first overall win in open parliamentary this year.
“It was encouraging to finally see results in the out-rounds of that form of debate,” Holt said.
“This is the first time that Lauren and I have won a tournament for Hillsdale,” Gaiser said. “She’s only a sophomore, so the league had better look out.”
The tournament did not award speaker points.
Despite the farcical theme, several factors made this tournament challenging.
“The topics in parliamentary debate were very broad, meaning that when we were on the negative, we would often have to adapt in-round,” Brooks said. “Also, Grove City College was at the tournament, and they have a very strong debate team.”
Brooks and Hanchett faced the Grove City team four out of their six rounds throughout the Saturday tournament and won three of the four.
In addition to these challenges, many of the judges had little or no collegiate debate experience and some had never seen an academic debate before, Brooks said.
“This made it challenging for us because we are used to judges who debated in college and are used to the activity and the regular jargon that goes with it,” Brooks said.
Just as some of the judges were facing new debate experiences, so were junior Alex Graf and sophomore Harris Wells.
Graf competed for the first time in International Public Debate Association-style debate and won second place.
Wells had never seen a Lincoln-Douglas debate before Sunday and had not read the evidence until Saturday night.
“Lincoln-Douglas has a steep learning curve, especially when you jump in at the end of the season because everyone already has a lot of knowledge on the topic, which made it hard for Harris to jump in with no experience in this format,” Brooks said. “However, Harris improved so much that by the end of the tournament he was able to compete with one of the top debaters from Otterbein University.”
Wells has decided to join the team in its next tournament in two weeks at Michigan State University — undeterred by the unusual experience of debating at a zombie-themed tournament.
“Some of the resolutions were funny, but they were still easy to understand and debate about,” Holt said. “They really left us a lot of room to be creative and have fun. It’s nice to have a weekend like this one. I really did have a total blast.”