great debate gives you power -- and an adrenaline rush
along the way
By Shannon K. Johnson
February 17, 2008 | At 4:30 a.m. the phone rings and
Mike in clipped voice informs me that he is leaving
at that moment and I had better head out to the parking
lot between our apartments. Flinging the covers off
I leap into the clothes I had laid out the night before.
If you’ve ever tried to carry a bulky blanket and
pillow with both arms, walk with a back pack on and
dragging a roll away suitcase, then you know you now
have the maneuverability of a mom holding hands with
two angry toddlers who are very determined to walk opposite
Doorframes are a major problem. I am not the most
coordinated person without the bulky luggage I am carrying,
so with the mobility of a shopping cart with two locked
wheels I quietly try to lumber out the door. By quietly
I mean thudding some part of myself (or what I am carrying)
against the wall, the door or reasonably solid air.
Essentially my roommates hate me. However it is all
worth it after I stuff my suitcases into the car, bus,
hotel room, and back to the bus. It’s amazing how suitcases
are so not mobile.
Mike and I pull up to Dr. Tom’s office, and we emerge
bleary eyed and heavy laden. The Utah State debate team
has arrived. We merge on the bus sarcastic and tired,
and soon settle into substantially less comfortable
positions then the ones we left behind in bed. We try
Thirteen hours on a small university bus with 11 other
people and practicing for literally hours on end is
a sacrifice that we are willing to make. But this is
the final tournament, and after seven years of debate
it seems that I have the urge to question my sanity
for participating in this “sport” and I wonder what
I am taking.
So as I collect the on behalf of the team and look
over the overstuffed auditorium I wonder what I really
took away from the sport.
First, debate makes you a big packer -- you need things
like a change of shoes to run around campus in when
you get the first set of blisters from your dress shoes.
Blankets, pillows, etc. are all necessities when you’re
trapped on a drafty bus where the windows don’t close
on. Those who are not prepared are cold. So when I am
setting out on a weekend get-away and my boyfriend whines
about my over packing I have a ready response: “Honey,
it is not my fault. Debate made me do it.”
I am sure he will be very understanding while nursing
the back injuries incurred from hefting my luggage into
But debate doesn’t just teach you to carry all your
possession around in a suitcase, it also teaches you
how to think on your feet.
Even after a night sharing a bed with a teammate,
morning dawns early with the smell of bad coffee wafting.
College students prepare to give elaborate speeches
in the backdrop of ordinary classrooms.
Fifteen minutes before the round sides are assigned
and a topic is announced, with so short a time to prepare
a case, I feel a huge adrenaline rush. Unlike most other
sports with that level of adrenaline the only risk here
is a blister from dress shoes, a paper cut, or some
Unless you count the torn ligaments in my ankle after
I fell down the stairs at a tournament my sophomore
year, but I blame clumsiness not debate.
Most consider debate an organized argument when in
reality it is the opposite -- competitors often part
amicably I have even become friends with my opponents.
But debate has a dark side. You can’t question everything
that the opposing team says without that bleeding into
It may not seem like a concern, but when your first
boyfriend says: “I love you,” the instinct of asking
why is suddenly dangerous. Many flings have been ended
early because the debater asks too many questions about
the real world impacts of a relationship.
Being a critical thinker who voices their questions
quickly (all as result of training) is a good way to
get into arguments that you never meant to get involved
with in the first place.
Now I teach a small class of fifth-graders debate
theory. They are starting four years earlier then I
was when I went to my first tournament. They all take
careful notes on the debate terms. Already they are
becoming critical thinkers in the few weeks since I
first started coaching.
They ask better questions, take better notes, and
are already more confident in front of their peers.
But soon they will start winning fights with their parents,
I hope they will use the power of debate for good rather