It seems fitting that the MU debate team’s primary method of recruiting new members is by word-of-mouth. The debaters obviously are good speakers, as the team, only in its second year, is ranked No. 1 in the nation.
The team has made huge strides since its inception a year ago. In last year’s first competition, the team sent five members to compete. This year, MU sent 16 debaters to the same competition — and walked away with first-place honors.
Coach Chris Banks, an MU third-year law student, credits much of the team’s success to the younger members of the team.
“The freshmen stepped up,” he said. “We’ve been overwhelmingly successful.”
Along with the top team ranking in the country, MU holds more first-place debate trophies for competitions this year than any other school in the country. The debate team also boasts having the top-ranked individual team in the nation — junior Chris Shaw and sophomore Nick Dudley.
Dudley joined the team his freshman year after debating in high school for four years. He said he thought debating in college might help him get into law school.
“It’s nice to have that intellectual clash and that type of stimulation,” Dudley said.
The debate format is more interesting than classroom lectures, he said, because lecturing is one-sided.
Dudley said being part of the top-ranked individual team in the country is rewarding but doesn’t mean much at this point in the season. “I’ll be happy if we’re on top in March,” he said, referring to when the season ends.
The format of a debate competition is structured so that debaters must think quickly on their feet. The topic is given to each team 20 minutes before the competition begins. Formal competition usually lasts about an hour. The topics mainly focus on current events, such as the recent expiration of the assault-weapons ban.
Topics can also be drawn from metaphorical statements, such as quotations from Harry Truman or John F. Kennedy.
Each team then assumes either the role of the government, in which they defend the position, or the role of the opposition, in which they attack the position.
Banks said the team of about 20 members has really taken off this year.
The whole team practices twice a week, critiquing their past performances and working on strategy for upcoming competitions. They are determined to make a name for themselves and the university and to continue to hold the top spot in the nation.
“Psychological-warfare battles between brains don’t get enough credit,” Banks said.