GCC debaters shine in a new world of collegiate competition

Debate Team captains Susannah Barnes ’21 and Teagan Truitt ’21.

Debate during a pandemic is a little bit different, but Grove City College’s team continues to win, place and show at regional tournaments – even from quarantine.

Freshman debater Jackson Romo ’24 took first place in the novice IPDA division at Bowling Green State University last month despite being in isolation after a possible exposure to COVID-19. While Romo was waiting alone in his dorm room to see if symptoms developed – they didn’t – he was able to compete and win because the pandemic has moved collegiate debate onto a virtual platform.

That victory was just one of the highlights of the spring debate season for the Grove City College team, which competed in four online tournaments in February and is looking forward to two national tournaments – the Pi Kappa Delta National Tournament and the National Christian College Forensic Invitational – later this month.

At the Feb. 6 Icebox Challenge tournament hosted by St. Cloud (Minn.) State University, senior captains Tegan Truitt ’21 and Susannah Barnes ’21 took second place overall, freshman Brayden Peppo ’24 won the third place speaker award and Truitt was named the tournament’s top speaker. It was the team’s first appearance at the event, which featured colleges and universities from the Midwest.

Sophomores Sebastian Anastasi ’23 and Jacob Adams ’23 went undefeated until ultimately losing on a split decision in the championship round at the Pennsylvania State Championship on Feb. 19 and 20, against other Keystone State debate squads.

Romo’s victory came in the first of two tournaments held Feb. 27 and 28 sponsored by Bowling Green. Junior Reese Overholt teamed with Barnes to win second place in the open NPDA division. Barnes took first place in the second day’s solely IPDA event. Other schools competing included Hillsdale College, Kansas Wesleyan, Grand Canyon University and Louisiana State University.

Coach Jason R. Edwards, professor of History, said the move online poses challenges and opportunities for students, who have been “tremendous” in adjusting to the new format. “Debating online does fundamentally alter the activity, but I am very proud of the team for taking the new challenges in stride, and grateful that the squad’s pattern of success has not changed despite the circumstances,” he said.

A veteran of high school debates in his native Texas, Romo said he misses the thrill of in-person competition, but is very impressed by online format. “However,” he said, “virtual competition is no substitute for in person debating. We don’t have the opportunity to shake our opponents’ hands before the round.”

Edwards said there are even more subtle differences in online debates – it’s harder for debaters to “read” judges and their opponents, debaters are usually seated as opposed to standing and a face-filled Zoom screen puts competitors “up in one’s grill” in a new way – but it “works pretty seamlessly and like tournaments of old.” And it makes it possible for Grove City College students to engage in ways they couldn’t previously due to time and geography. “It is quite amazing when you think of it as we quite regularly have had competitors in Arizona debating our students in Pennsylvania while being judged by someone in Minnesota,” he said.

Team captain Barnes said that is one the biggest advantages of the online format. “We have been able to debate against schools from across the country that we might only hit at nationals. It has increased the caliber of our competition, making the tournaments more competitive and more exciting,” she said.

Despite the altered states of the current season, her final one, Barnes said the debate team will be what she misses most about Grove City College after she graduates. “Being a member of the debate team has been the best part of my college experience. As an out of state student, having a team that feels like a family makes being away from home so much easier. I have met my best friends, gotten to know the greatest professors and, until this year, have been able to travel to places I hadn’t been before. Debate has opened so many doors for me and provided countless opportunities,” she said.

Below, the Grove City College Debate Team, from left, front: Hunter Oswald ‘24, Amy Shanks ‘24, Eden Kleiman ‘24, Susannah Barnes ‘21, Tegan Truitt ‘21, Tomas Mueller ‘24, Caleb Van Grouw ’23; back: Courage Houston ‘21, Noah Berry ‘23, Reese Overholt ‘22, Brayden Peppo ‘24, Jonathan Skee ‘21, Estan Sutter ‘24, Sebastian Anastasi ‘23.

GCC debaters shine in a new world of collegiate competition

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