The Grove City College Debate Team is trained to make strong arguments, speak honestly and act as cultural witnesses in their pursuit of victory in the collegiate debate circuit.
A commitment to win honorably through conscience and truth might seem to crash up against the rules of debate, which gives students, at best, a half-an-hour between when they are assigned a position to argue and when they begin making the case for it.
That structure can implicitly endorse relativism and perhaps encourage competitors to say anything to score points. It is hard enough to make a cogent argument in that time, let alone a principled one. But that’s what Grove City College debaters do, and it has resulted in a string of victories at Christian and secular tournaments across the country over the last decade.
“We are committed to training young people to win debates through speaking the truth beautifully. Our motto is: Speak better and know more,” Debate Coach Dr. Jason R. Edwards, professor of History, said. “Our success speaks to the effectiveness of the formula, but, frankly, I am more pleased by the fact that the team is a true community that fosters development in all aspects of life, not just argumentation. Our commitment is to developing men and women dedicated to truth and capable of defending it.”
Debate puts participants’ mental dexterity and rhetorical skill to the test. Over the course of a season, debaters find themselves on various sides of an issue or question, which can offer up some “delightful ironies,” according to Edwards.
At the Bluegrass Invitational last year in Lexington, Ky., Carolyn Hartwick ’19, a rising senior from Fairless Hills, Pa., and Christopher Ostertag ’20, a rising junior from Perkiomenville, Pa., were assigned to argue in favor of the federal government providing free college education for students.
It’s a position that would likely run into some resistance at Grove City College, which doesn’t accept any federal funding, including student loans, as the result of the landmark 1984 U.S. Supreme Court Case Grove City College v. Bell. In Bell, the College sued the Department of Education in a bid to protect the private Christian liberal arts college’s historic independence and stand against excessive government control.
“During the debate, to the delight of the crowd, their opponents started to cite arguments from the Supreme Court case as well as a lengthy quote from Grove City College Economics Professor Dr. Jeff Herbener regarding the undermining of independence that comes with government funding,” Edwards said.
Hartwick and Ostertag might have been on the wrong side of the debate, but they ended up on the right side of the judges. “Alas, as in the court case, Grove City College’s philosophic position ultimately lost, but at least in this case there was the consolation of the College’s team winning,” Edwards noted.
Winning is something that the College’s debaters did on a regular basis during the 2017-18 season.
Under captains Hartwick and Colin Freyvogel ’18, who graduated in May, the team put another successful season in the books in competition with teams from Cedarville University, Hillsdale College, Oberlin College, Notre Dame, Virginia Military Institute, University of Virginia, University of Kentucky, Patrick Henry, Colorado Christian, Point Loma, Azusa Pacific, Morehouse College and Rollins University.
Grove City College debaters ended the 2017-18 season in March in Nashville, Tenn., as national champions at Pi Kappa Delta’s National Comprehensive Tournament, where they debated topics in policy, value and fact in the main debate formats: two person teams in National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) and individuals in International Public Debate Association (IPDA).
Competing against squads from dozens of colleges and universities at what is billed as the largest speech and debate tournament in the world, the team captured the first place Division I Debate Sweepstakes Award on the strength of combined results.
Grove City College Debate Team members placed in three categories in Nashville: Hartwick took second place in open IPDA; Nicholas Robison ’19, a rising senior from Oxford, Ala., and Tegan Truitt ’21, a rising sophomore from Lakewood, Colo., tied for third place in Open NPDA, Truitt also earned the fourth place speaker title in open NPDA; and Sydney Barnes ’21, a rising sophomore from Boston, placed fourth and Susannah Barnes’21, a rising sophomore from Meadville, Pa., placed sixth, in novice NDPA.
Other highlights of the season included:
- Winning the top two speaker positions in both varsity and novice divisions at the Forensic 500 in Indianapolis.
- Novices Nathaniel Bennet ’21`and Josiah Gowen ’21 winning NPDA novice at the Forensic 500.
- Philip Lothe ’21 and Stefanie Klaves ’21 winning the AEI Invitational in novice NPDA
- Hartwick being named the top IPDA speaker at the John G. Fea Invitational in Berea, Kentucky.
- Klaves being named the top novice speaker at the AEI Invitational.
- Closeout of IPDA semifinals at John Marshall Tournament with first place overall in the debate sweepstakes. Jonathan Skee ’21 being named the top novice IPDA debater, Sydney Travis ’21 the top novice NPDA speaker, and Freyvogel and Micah Quigley ’18 being named the top two varsity NPDA speakers.
- Truitt being named the top varsity speaker at the Bluegrass Invitational.
- Winning Debate Sweepstakes Champions at Bowling Green State University’s Falcon Classic.
- Lothe winning the IPDA competition at Bowling Green University, despite pushing the dress code. Due to a roommate’s practical joke, he had to wear Birkenstock sandals with his formal debate suit.
In the past decade, the program has produced four first place national championship speakers and captured several national championships. Over the life of the College, hundreds of alumni have honed their speaking skills and become better communicators and influencers through collegiate debate. Grove City College’s unique forensic fellowship is made up of students drawn from a variety of majors, backgrounds and interests.
Edwards has mentored the squad since 2013 with the able support of assistant coach Dr. Andrew Harvey, professor of English. The team is occasionally assisted on the road by Dr. Michael Coulter ’91, professor of Political Science.