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U of S debate society on the upswing in the university debate arena

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U of S debaters pose at the Fall Open Novice Championships in Calgary on Oct. 20, 2019. | Supplied by the U of S Debate Society

The University of Saskatchewan Debate Society is on the come up, having taken the cup at two tournaments this year among other good performances. At each tournament, they competed against teams from all across Western Canada. 

Their successful season began with sending seven teams to the fall open tournament in October, which is unique in that only novices can compete, with many participants being first-time debaters. Three teams made semifinals and U of S debaters Nohl Purdue and Wardah Mahmood won the tournament while also tying for top speaker.

On Nov. 15 to 17, Purdue and Mahmood also went on to win the novice finals at the University British Columbia IV tournament in Vancouver. 

Purdue, a first-year arts and science student and USDS vice-president training, has won multiple times this season. The intensity of debate competitions drives Purdue to do his best.

“Going into a tournament knowing that I’m there to be a competitive team, knowing that everyone else is going to be just as competitive and pushing yourself to be the best — I really like that intensity,” Purdue said. 

Debate topics in tournaments can range from pop culture to international relations. Once receiving the topic, debaters have 15 minutes for preparation and then they must argue their case. Tournaments include multiple rounds of debate between various teams.

The century-old debate society at the U of S has been home to great speakers including the founding member and former prime minister, John G. Diefenbaker. 

The Diefenbaker Cup tournament is hosted annually by the USDS. This year, half of the teams in the semifinals were from the U of S, and their success did not stop there. After that, the finals round was completely made of Saskatchewan debaters. Purdue and Abby Vadeboncoeur, a third-year history major and USDS president, took the win.

USDS President Abby Vadeboncoeur and Vice-President Training Nohl Purdue holding the Diefenbaker Cup at the U of S on Nov. 3, 2019. | Supplied by the U of S Debate Society

Vadeboncoeur is happy with the success of the group and credits it in part to the addition of new debaters.  

“I’m so excited and I can’t take much of the credit at all,” Vadeboncoeur said. “We’ve had some really strong debaters come in and we’ve had some novices come in who have never debated before who are just really dedicated and ready to learn and improve.”

One of these novices is Julianna Pitzel, a first-year arts and science student, who started debating in September and made her way to the semifinals of the Hugill tournament, held by the University of Alberta from Nov. 8 to 10. Pitzel says debating was different than what she expected. 

“I had to learn to be more open minded or think outside the box because you’re not always on the side of the argument that you want to be, or debating about what you want to be debating about,” Pitzel said. “I’ve had to learn how to get creative.”

Vadeboncoeur says debate has been beneficial for her in more ways than one.

“[Debate] has made me a more confident public speaker and it has improved my essay writing and my in-class discussions because you get really good at picking out key ideas and framing your ideas in a way that’s persuasive and easy to understand,” Vadeboncoeur said. 

The USDS hosts debate rounds every week which are open to all students to compete in or to observe and learn. Members can compete in tournaments in other cities, and the USDS executive has a goal to make travelling to tournaments “as accessible as possible.” The group is currently looking to send a team to the World Universities’ Debating Championships in the future.

The USDS has meetings every Wednesday in Arts 101 at 4:30 p.m.

*Andy Luu is an executive member of USDS

Andy Luu & Aqsa Hussain/ Layout Manager

Photos: Supplied by the U of S Debate Society

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