Debate Club Sets Records at Championship in Cape Town

Debate Excels on Big Stage

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Debate Club Sets Records at Championship in Cape Town

The debaters had the chance to explore Cape Town during their visit.

The debaters had the chance to explore Cape Town during their visit.

COURTESY PHOTO

The debaters had the chance to explore Cape Town during their visit.

COURTESY PHOTO

COURTESY PHOTO

The debaters had the chance to explore Cape Town during their visit.

By RILEY BOARD

Five Middlebury debaters celebrated the new year seven hours ahead and thousands of miles away in Cape Town, South Africa at the largest debate competition in the world, the World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC). Charlotte Massey ’18, Nate Obbard ’21, Amanda Werner ’21, Quinn Boyle ’21 and Van Barth ’21 competed in two-person teams with Massey and Obbard placing 70th in the world, Werner and Boyle placing 224th and Barth serving as a judge. Massey and Obbard’s performance was the best in Middlebury history.

Overall, the college team’s performance was also a personal best. In order to make it to the highly competitive elimination rounds, teams needed to gather 17 points over the course of nine rounds; Middlebury finished with 16. One team reached what is known as a bubble round, where the four teams closest to breaking into the elimination round compete against each other for the last spot. 

“Unfortunately they didn’t win that last round, but just reaching that in itself is an accomplishment because it means that you’re one of the most competitive teams, fighting for that last spot,” Barth said.

Middlebury’s debate team has been attending the WUDC for over half a decade. The competition hosts over 400 teams representing more than 90 countries. Teams of two follow a British Parliamentary format, and have 15 minutes to come up with an argument on topics ranging from economics to religion to sports to ethics. 

Unfortunately they didn’t win that last round, but just reaching that in itself is an accomplishment because it means that you’re one of the most competitive teams, fighting for that last spot.”

— Van Barth '21

Students are selected to attend WUDC based on a try-out at the start of the semester. Four of the five debaters chosen for the championship were sophomores.

“At the beginning of each semester we debate each other and then we have a third-party person, who is not affiliated with our school and who knows debate, watch the round and rank us,” Werner explained. “Whoever had been given the ranking of first gets to choose whether or not they want to go and so on.”  

The team’s coaches, who were chosen to judge at the competition, expressed pride in the debaters that attended WUDC.

“I am very proud of how much growth there has been from all team members,” coach Patricia Johnson-Castle said.

“The team really supported each other the whole trip — in and out of rounds,” coach Alexandra Sundarsingh said. “It was nice to see everyone have as much fun as they had hard work,”.

People came from so many different backgrounds; they had entirely new perspectives to offer to the debate that perhaps we had never trained with or thought about.”

— Amanda Werner '21

Alongside their competitive successes, the five students were able to participate in an incredible global experience. One of the most striking aspects of the event for most of the team was how different debate styles from different parts of the world were, especially since the Middlebury team often encounters the same people at tournaments around the northeast.

“People came from so many different backgrounds; they had entirely new perspectives to offer to the debate that perhaps we had never trained with or thought about,” Werner said. “It was really interesting to interact with all those different perspectives.” 

“It was the most international group I’d ever seen,” Barth echoed. “To be able to judge all these people, since they all brought their different perspectives to the debate, was amazing.” 

Obbard noted that it was somewhat frustrating to adapt to different styles of judges and competitors, but that it was also a valuable experience. 

“It’s good to get out of the bubble where you walk into a room and think ‘I know this judge,’” Obard said. “It’s better to have strangers from all over the place who aren’t going to have U.S.-specific knowledge of the same examples that you do.”

The team also had four days outside of the competition to explore Cape Town. Some of them chose to take a 4 a.m. sunrise hike through the mountains overlooking the city. 

“It was very strenuous, but then we got to watch the sun rise from behind the mountains and over the city and it was so beautiful,” Werner said. “It was at that moment that I realized how lucky and grateful I was to be there and do the activity that I love but also have time to explore the city.” 

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About the Writer
RILEY BOARD, Arts and Academics Editor

Riley Grey Board '22 is an Arts & Academics Editor from Sarasota, Fla.

She previously served as a staff writer and Community Council correspondent.

Board...

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Debate Club Sets Records at Championship in Cape Town