By MICHELLE VASQUEZ
Seniors Parker Coon and Gabriel Lewis represented UMW among the top 30 teams at the National Debate Tournament this past March. They were the eighth UMW team to reach the elimination round at the National Debate Tournament. Coon and Lewis outperformed the Harvard team and made it to the double-octofinals.
Adrienne Brovero has been the director of the debate team for 13 years at the University of Mary Washington and has been coaching for more than 20 years.
“We have had a pretty strong program across the board level: novice, junior varsity and varsity,” she said. “We had more teams at the competitive success to reach the national level.”
Lewis and Coon met the summer before senior year of high school at a five-week summer debate boot camp at which Brovero was a leader. Lewis is a political science major from Salt Lake City, Utah, and Lewis is an economics major from California. Both moved cross country specifically to join UMW’s debate team.
They said the transition was not easy at first, because both had to leave everything they knew back home.
“College is a lot more time intensive, just because everyone is a lot more prepared typically, and so there’s a lot more effort that goes into it,” Coon added.
Lewis and Coon began debating when they were both freshmen in high school. Coon said, “I didn’t really play an instrument or do any sports, so it was kind of the other option that was there.”
Lewis added, “Very similar, I kind of had it on my freshman year schedule, and it was one of the electives I was placed in. I was like ‘alright, whatever, I’ll try it,’ and I ended really liking it.”
The debate team prepares for months in advance for the tournaments. The topic is selected the summer before, remaining constant for the entire year until competition. This year the debate team chose to focus on the trade aspect of the topic. After the team becomes well-versed in the topic, they continue to research, stay up-to-date on information, and practice reacting to other arguments. They meet every Tuesday night for two hours to read and bounce ideas off of each other in preparation for the tournament.
At the tournament, the UMW debaters represented the negative side of the issue and Harvard argued the affirmative. Each side is a team composed of two debaters, with a total of four people participating in the debate.
“An important part of debate is not so much debating a team as debating the arguments,” Lewis said.
He said that allowed him to stay out of his head and focus on the issues.
“On my last speech I went kind of all in on the argument that they could not solve a lot of their own arguments. So they talked a lot about how other countries proliferating nuclear weapons is bad and why we needed to change a law in order to be able to stop that,” Lewis said. “And so, my biggest focus was saying that changing a law would be insufficient to overcome the problems that exist within the arms control status quo.”
Coon and Lewis have participated in four and three national tournaments, respectively. This year marked the first time they made it to the elimination rounds.. According to Coon and Lewis, the fun part is being a part of the rounds in the tournaments and the aspect of traveling.
They also said their biggest challenge being part of the debate team in college is the ability to balance everything from reading a lot, research, time and traveling. But, after a couple years of doing it, it has become easier to balance social life and school work.