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Three Pomona Students Place in Top 20 at National Debate Championships

The Claremont Colleges Debate Union, a 5C group, had an impressive run at the 2009 U.S. Universities National Debate Championships held earlier this month at the University of Vermont at Burlington. Five of the nine two-person teams from Claremont won awards, which was the most of any college or university at the event.

Three Pomona students placed in the top 20: Raymond Lu ‘11, along with his debating partner Charlie Sprague from CMC, placed ninth overall, while Nick Hubbard ‘11 and Joe Witte ‘11 tied for 17th place out of 124 teams.

“The competition is quite serious for undergrads,” says CMC Director of Forensics John Meany, who oversees the Debate Union and noted competitors included not just undergraduate students, but also graduate students, many from law schools. Harvard placed first this year.

The championships use the British Parliamentary debate format, with four teams of two speakers in each debate. A subject is announced 15 minutes prior to the debate, and two teams are asked to argue in favor and two teams argue in opposition. Debate partners can only confer with one another in the 15-minute planning period, and not research the topic in any other way. Two teams are eliminated, and then the other two teams move forward.

The Claremont Colleges Debate Union, which boasts more than 100 student participants and is the largest collegiate debate club in the nation, has an impressive record: For 17 consecutive years, Claremont debaters have placed in the top 10 in the nation.

Last year, Pomona student Kari Wohlschlegel ’08 and her debate partner Sprague finished second in the United States, second in the Asian debate championships, and fifth in the Canadian National Debate Championship. The team was also selected for an international round-robin competition with 16 of the best teams in the world; Wohlschlegel and Sprague placed second.

This year’s three award-winning debaters from Pomona credit Meany with their success.

“He’s an excellent coach and brings out the best in every debater,” says Hubbard, an international relations major who is new to debating; this was only his second official tournament.

“He does a tremendous job providing support for debaters of all different levels, from coordinating weekly practices to organizing a system whereby we all research one or two relevant topics (e.g., global water supplies, regional economic integration) and contribute to a pile of research to assist us before rounds,” says Lu, an international relations major who started debating his freshman year. “Apart from being an endless source of pithy wisdom, he is able to provide incisive analysis to flesh out the different perspectives on any given topic.”

That pithy wisdom also seems to have also influenced the debaters’ humor. “Probably the best story from our tournament was from the first elimination round. The topic was about a worldwide ban on exports of seal products, and we had the unfortunate position of having to argue for clubbing baby seals,” recalls Witte, a politics major. “So we kind of ran with it: Nick’s intro was ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the government’s arguments are cute, innocent and naïve, just like baby seals. In this speech, I will club each of those arguments.’”