Debate team pair wins at nationals


The Appalachian Online

Tommy Culkin

Appalachian State University’s Forensic Union & Debate Team recently competed in a national competition and two debaters left with a major accomplishment.

Kyle Scruggs, a senior communications studies major and Hannah Fry, a senior sustainable development major, won first place in the novice division at the NPDA competition in Long Beach, California.

The novice division is for first year debaters.

This was the pair’s first tournament as partners, because Fry’s regular partner was unable to attend the tournament. Mark Bentley, the team’s coach, said Scruggs and Fry’s performance was surprising given their lack of time together.

“Individually, Hannah and Kyle are extremely talented debaters, so I knew they had potential,” Bentley said. “However, they only partnered up a week before the competition and only got in about three practice sessions together. And chemistry is so vital in debate. The ability to synergize with your partner so that you’re both constructing similar arguments within the round, knowing where your partner is wanting to go, knowing how to read their handwriting, and all that stuff, is absolutely vital.”

That necessity for chemistry was on full display during the preparation time before rounds, when teams are only given 15-20 minutes to prepare for the coming debate.

“Prep time is definitely hectic,” Scruggs said. “You’re frantically writing stuff down, yelling out ideas that you think would work [and] figuring out what your partner prepped. It’s definitely important to be on the same page.”

Because of their lack of experience together, Fry and Scruggs entered the tournament with an underdog mentality.

“We went into the tournament thinking, ‘If we could win just one round, I would be beside myself,’” Fry said. “When we won our first round, we decided to win another one, and then we won that one, and so on. As the competition progressed, my confidence grew.”

Fry said that even though they competed in the novice division, they still matched up against teams of all skill levels.

“The chance to go up against more experienced teams was a great learning experience,” Fry said. “We had the opportunity to compete with the top teams in the nation, which was just a phenomenal experience.

Some of the topics they debated included whether the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) should reduce their oil quota, and whether the federal government should grant asylum to undocumented people living in the United States.

Scruggs said the debate on OPEC was one of his favorites because it gave the team the opportunity to argue the philosophy of panpsychism, which states that everything in the universe has a consciousness.

“Our plan was to consult the oil about what it wanted to be done to it in its natural state,” Scruggs said. “Does it want to come out of the ground to be used by humans, or does it want to stay underground? I love the idea that you don’t deny the consciousness of anything despite being unable to communicate with that thing in the existing structure.”

Despite the fact that pairings of two compete, Fry and Scruggs credit their win to the entire debate team. Fry’s normal partner helped Scruggs adapt to Fry’s debate style, the veterans on the team gave guidance and advice and the whole team practices by holding mock debates against one another.

“Everyone wants to call debate a partnership, but this really is a team sport,” Fry said.

The tournament had 163 teams from 64 different schools.

As a school, Appalachian State finished 17th.

For Bentley, closing the year out with a win like this was the perfect end to the season.

“Ending the season on a high note like this is the best,” Bentley said. “Hannah and Kyle won the award, but we really rely on one another to help each other and improve, so the successes are based on the work that every single member of the team is willing to put in. So even though Hannah and Kyle won the award, it’s sort of like we all share in their victory.”

Story by Tommy Culkin, Senior News Reporter