By Kedrick Nettleton, Contributing News Editor
This weekend, Oklahoma Baptist University took part in an academic tradition that stretches back thousands of years.
The OBU debate team traveled to the University of Arkansas at Monticello for an invitational debate tournament, the first tournament of the new academic season.
The team, which is led by coach and assistant communications professor Scot Loyd, is on a roll after a string of tournament success last season, and the expectations for The Bison Debate Team this year are high.
In the novice division, Mitch Sadler placed second, Josh Knox received a top five speaker award and Joy Rhodes finished in the top 24.
In Junior Varsity, debate club president, Jennifer Pensamiento-Hilton finished in the top four. Loyd was hired on Bison Hill in 2016 to begin a debate team from scratch, and also to develop a debate program within the communication department.
He was surprised, though, to find that the history of debate at OBU goes back decades – in a sense, the team wasn’t starting off from scratch at all.
“From what I understand, back in the fifties was the last time that OBU had a debate program,” Loyd said. “You can go up to the library in the archives and they have old trophies. You can see a history.”
Although this history of debate didn’t endure, when Loyd arrived on campus he picked up right where the debaters of past decades left off.
He formed a team, and they began to compete. Their first debates took place on Bison Hill, as the debate team was a part of the Business department’s Ethics Bowl, where debates centered on various ethical dilemmas.
Though the program was in its infancy and expectations were low – not to mention the fact that the format for the Ethics Bowl was unlike the setting of a formal debate tournament – The Bison Debaters finished third in the state and qualified for the national competition.
The governing body for the debate tournaments that OBU competes in is the International Public Debate Association, which includes a wide variety of both private Christian Universities and state schools.
The tournament season lasts from September to March, and each IPDA tournament adheres to the format of a public debate.
In this format, debaters must argue either positively or negatively to a question they receive during the tournament, and must then attempt to persuade an impartial judge during the actual debate session. Time to prepare after learning the question is limited, and anyone can be a judge at the tournament.
“The philosophy behind that is that in the real world, you don’t get to pick your judges,” Loyd said. “What we focus on is the ability to persuade.”
During a debate, each competitor gets an equal amount of time to make their case, but there are a number of factors that impact the final judgment.
“That goes to speaking ability, it goes to logical arguments, and it goes to appeals to emotion,” Loyd said. “Even though you don’t want to primarily build things on an appeal to emotion, it’s a very important part of who we are… we are emotional creatures. All of that is involved in what we do.”
While the nuts and bolts of a debate tournament can seem confusing and perhaps even overwhelming at times, Loyd is quick to point out that debate, in its purpose, is simple.
“A lot of people mischaracterize debate,” he said. “They see debate as about winning an argument. It’s not really about winning an argument, it’s about defining what you believe and then being able to articulate the beliefs of your opponent to their satisfaction.”
Loyd points out that often people are quick to disagree without knowing the facts, or without understanding the position of their opponents to the fullest degree possible.
“So what debate teaches us, one of the greatest gifts of competitive debate, is that it teaches us that we should not be allowed to disagree with our opponents until we can articulate their best arguments to their satisfaction,” he said.
The new season carries with it significant expectations, as the OBU Bison have already had great success in their first seasons.
Last year’s team, which competed in the Novice division due to the newness of the OBU program, finished second overall in the nation, and current team captain Chase Chastain finished seventh in the nation individually.
Loyd firmly stresses the two-pronged definition of success for the team this year.
“First of all, it’s always a success when people get involved and they discover things about themselves and they discover how to become more persuasive, how to be a better thinker, how to be a better speaker,” he said. “But more practically, having finished second in the nation, we have some expectations that we didn’t have before… the team goal that we’ve set for ourselves is to finish in the top five in the nation this year.”
And team captain Chase Chastain echoes the confi dence of his coach.
“We have a big number of novice debaters, and they are all skilled,” Chastain said. “I expect to bring home a lot of trophies this weekend.”
Debate practice takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week, and everyone is wel-come to join and try their skills.
“All you have to do is come,” Loyd said. “The only thing we can’t teach someone is how to be competitive… we can teach you everything else.”