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University Of Kansas Teams Take On The Best College Debaters

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Credit Danny Wood / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3

The University of Kansas basketball players were not the only stellar squad from KU competing for national honors in late March.

Three KU teams are on center stage for the four-day-long National Debate Tournament, which is being held at the university’s Edwards Campus in Overland Park.

About 500 students and coaches, encompassing 78 top university debating teams, are engaged in dozens of simultaneous debates. Debaters from UMKC and Missouri State are among the metro and Missouri colleges represented.

There’s only one resolution being debated and each two person team gets a chance to debate the affirmative and negative case multiple times. The topic: Should the federal government establish a domestic climate policy, including increasing restrictions on private-sector emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States?

Ned Gidley is from North Carolina’s Wake Forest University debate team.  He says that months ago when

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Credit Danny Wood / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Wake Forest student Ned Gidley says the resolution under debate is intimately linked to the current political climate.

he started discussing this topic with his teammates, Barack Obama was still president and students thought the policy points they developed for the affirmative case would more than likely be implemented in the real world. Not anymore.

“Now the topic has taken a radically different turn but it’s interesting because it really shows you why some of the stuff we talk about matters I think,” he says.  

The main presentation of arguments involves the students using a remarkable, rapid fire speaking style called speed reading or spreading.

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KCUR 89.3
Lainey Schrag, from the KU debate team, says it can be challenging keeping up with the opposition’s ideas when they’re coming at a speed of 400 words per minute.

“They are functionally taking their legal briefs on the questions being raised and reading them orally and you’ve got nine minutes to present your arguments so they are presenting that information as rapidly as they can,” says Scott Harris, KU’s director of debate.

Lainey Schrag, from the KU debate team, says it can be challenging keeping up with the opposition’s ideas when they’re coming at a speed of 400 words per minute. 

“Because if you get distracted for ten seconds you could miss three arguments that have just been made so you really have to be paying attention,” she says.

This is the first time KU has hosted the annual tournament, which at 71 years old is the longest running college debate competition in the country. The tournament is scheduled to wrap up Monday evening.

Danny Wood is a freelance reporter for KCUR.

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