Where arguing is often avoided, ACU Debate has made a sport of it.
Even up against Div. I powerhouse schools, ACU’s Speech and Debate team has some trophies to boast of, said Dena Counts, instructor of communication and director of forensics and six-year advisor for the ACU Speech and Debate team.
“We compete against schools, like Notre Dame, USC, Berkely, University of Oregon, University of Oklahoma and Rice,” she said. “In the last six years, we have won a national championship and had teams ranked in the top 20.”
Last year, Dylan Brugman, senior political science and sociology major from Aurora, Colo., and Joyce Schuster, sophomore political Science and History major from North Richland Hills, were ranked 14th in the nation.
This year they are ranked 41st due to participation in much more difficult tournaments, Counts said. However, Brugman and Schuster have beaten four of the top ten teams in the nation this season.
Yet, the title-holding team were debate newbies before coming to college.
“I didn’t even know it existed,” Schuster said.
The Honors College first directed her to debate for scholarship money.
“But as soon as I tried it out, I was hooked,” she said. “Debate seemed so exciting and everyone sounded so intelligent. I knew that I wanted to be able to make arguments like the debaters did.”
Now Schuster is known as perhaps the fastest female debater on the circuit.
Being fast is important, because the faster you talk the more information you can spill out, she explained. Debaters simply don’t win if they aren’t fast, however, it does exhibit a natural talent for the activity.
“In other words, the faster and clearer you talk, the more renown you are as a speaker,” Schuster said. “It is a huge intimidation factor as well. You are scared of the teams that go fast.”
“Winning has been fun, but I love being known and recognized for something that I do in every round,” she said. “Working my way up to that point was difficult and it is something I am very proud of.”
In his first debate season, Brugman was awarded the 2012 Dan Henning Novice Debater of the Year award for being the top novice in the country. Recently, he was chosen to debate the Irish at the National Parliamentary Tournament.
“Every year the Debate Association chooses three of the top debaters in the country to debate fellow top debaters from Ireland,” Counts said. “Dylan, due to his leadership, debate success, scholarship and service, was chosen to represent our nation at this event.”
Unlike their elder teammates, Caleb Orr, freshman political science major from McKinney, and Taylor Rudolph, freshman accounting and finance major from Austin, both had high school experience in debate.
Yet, the veterans’ influence has played out in their debating experience.
“They’re just so well respected and liked by everyone in that community,” Rudolph said. “It’s been really good for networking with other teams and schools.”
“I’m definitely a better speaker today because of them,” Orr said. “Some of the concepts we advocate for are ideas that have been introduced to me by Dylan, and that has broadened my perspective both as a debater and a person.”
The season runs from September to April, averaging about seven tournaments a year.
Each week, twice a week, the team meets to practice for three hours, quizzing current events arguments and brainstorming strategies. Weekends aren’t breathers either, with homework to research and write arguments.
Even in the offseason, “You never switch off your debate brain,” Schuster said.
The team works year-round research and holding camps in the summer to make sure that they are prepared for the season.
“We have tryouts in the summer and August of every year,” Counts said. “In April this year, we will have an interest meeting to inform students of requirements for being on the team and information on tryouts.”
But with nationals less than a month away, the debaters are doing double-time preparation.
“Lots of research,” Rudolph said. “We actually have the topic areas for Nationals, which we usually don’t get for a tournament, so we’re writing a lot of cases on potential resolutions that could come up at Nationals.”
The absences tally up for a team traveling all over the country.
“This year, I have been to California, Colorado, Oregon, Missouri and Utah,” Brugman said.
But debate has only added to their education and future careers.
“It wasn’t until I joined this activity that I realized my passion for public policy, communication and persuasion,” Schuster said. “I want to either work as a lobbyist or crisis management. My skills of research and persuasion give me a huge step up amongst the competition.”
Even with tournaments typically scheduled Thursday through Mondays, the absence-heavy activity doesn’t cripple classroom success.
“We learn good time management and are often working extra hard in and out of class to make up for our absences,” Brugman said. “It also helps with in-class discussions, because I have a better understanding of the way an argument works and can formulate them better.”
Debate develops critical thinking skills, analytics, and information on a whole host of subjects, making for a debate team toting around trophy GPAs as well.
Students know where to find information and where to find it quickly because of the date, making it easy to transfer knowledge to their classwork, Counts said.
“Typically, those that are good at debate are highly intelligent, love reading about current events, and enjoy confrontation,” Counts said.
Team members reluctantly agreed, debate is in their blood.
“I try not to be argumentative, but sometimes people learn that you’re a debater and want to debate with you,” Brugman said. “I have to dodge a lot of conversation bullets to avoid having incredibly long and drawn out debates with people.”
But it is not always about winning, Orr said.
“I think that has made me a better student and person,” he said. “If anything, debate teaches you to question everything.”
However, winning is a plus.
“People definitely consider me argumentative,” Schuster joked. “The only difference between before debate and after debate, is now I never lose.”