This spring, Covenant’s debate team concluded their 2014-2015 season by winning first place overall sweepstakes for Division II colleges at the annual National Christian Forensics Invitational (NCCFI). NCCFI was located at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colorado, this year. The sweepstakes award is given to the team that accumulates the most overall points in the division. Freshman Lauren MacDougall won top novice speaker while Morgan Barney, who is also a Freshman, received third place novice persuasive speaker. Junior Jonathan Turner, placed fifth in novice extemporaneous speaking while Sophomore Mackenzie Harmon, earned second place varsity debate speaker.
Coach Sarah Swygard ’13, says that although the team is composed of students with differing levels of debate experience, they have all “gone above and beyond expectations to prepare for tournaments and improve their speaking skills. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed coaching the team this year, and I think this year’s success is a testament to these students,” she said.
While the team usually competes at two day-long tournaments, the Colorado trip was for a national tournament, and so included three days of alternated rounds of speech and debate. Sophomore Emmy Schollenberger calls the experience “hectic, because you are constantly on the move from round to round. They give you a topic, or ‘resolution’, twenty minutes before to research your debate, so it’s a lot of thinking on your feet.” Mackenzie Harmon describes it as “Five hundred twenty-year-olds in suits that don’t fit talking about domestic politics … Debate tournaments are weird.” However, despite the intellectual nature of the tournaments, speech and debate is not all about politics, and this year’s teams debated topics ranging from Russia and the Islamic State to “Sororities and Fraternities do more harm than good.”
The range in focus and theme contributes to why students from all majors and backgrounds can excel at speech and debate. Covenant’s current team is made up of students majoring in art, community development, computer science, economics, English, and international studies, and each believes that being on the debate team will aid them in their future endeavors. Schollenberger, an art major, says, “Being comfortable presenting in front of an audience will help you no matter what your career is,” and Harmon went on to call debate “the best thing you can do in college, other than have a good GPA.”
Senior English major Stephen McKerihan said that Covenant’s debate team has provided an outlet for his energy and interests ranging from social issues to philosophy. The Colorado trip was his last tournament, and a bittersweet experience. Despite ending in elimination after three long days of debate, McKerihan says that “The whole team made nationals the most enjoyable tournament I have ever been to. I could not have asked for a better way to end my competitive career.”
The team’s friendship and camaraderie is also one of Lauren MacDougall’s favorite parts of debate. This year was her first time debating, and she says that “My first debate was horrendous, but everyone was so encouraging that I didn’t feel like an idiot. That set the tone for me. I wasn’t afraid of messing up, and the team was so willing to stop and teach me, let me try it, and see my strengths to help me grow.” McKerihan also encourages students to not be intimidated by the prospect of public speaking or debate. “Don’t let the idea of arguing or political discussion keep you away,” he said. “Our team practices regularly in incredibly supportive environments to help the beginners as well as the experienced grow. We also travel to awesome locations … meet people from colleges all over, and have a great time while doing it.”