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Debate Union Places Second at National Championship

Kari Wohlschlegel ’08 and debate partner Charles Sprague (CMC ’10), teammates on The Claremont Colleges Debate Union, placed second at the 2008 national debate championships at Portland State University, held April 11-13. The U.S. Universities National Championship uses the international parliamentary debate format, the most popular intercollegiate competitive model in the world.

The international format emphasizes impromptu argumentation. Once a topic is announced, students have 15 minutes to prepare for a one-hour debate. Featuring a different topic for each debate, students do not have prior knowledge of the topic nor which side of the topic they are required to argue. Debate topics ranged from adoption of the Colombian free trade agreement, to reform of the U.S. presidential election primary process, to generation of state revenue from legalized gambling. The format is open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

The national championship was the last tournament for the Sprague-Wohlschlegel team, ending an extraordinarily successful year of debate competition before losing in the final to graduate students and previous national champions from Harvard. The team earlier placed second at the Asian Debate Championship in China and fifth at the Canadian national championship. They also won the largest invitational tournament held in the United States and were selected to participate in the International Round Robin Debate Championship, a competition for 16 of the top debate teams in the world. At that event, each team is required to debate the other 15 teams to determine the overall champion. Sprague and Wohlschlegel placed second, defeating Yale and Oxford and losing to Harvard, in the tournament final. In earlier round robin debates, they defeated rivals from Amherst, Swarthmore and the University of Toronto.

This is the 16th consecutive year that members of the Debate Union have placed among the nation’s top 10, including top-five finishes for the past seven years. Debate Union director John Meany says he was impressed by the consistency of the team’s performance.

“It is challenging enough to rank among the top college debaters in one’s own country,” he says, “but it is remarkable to place among the finest undergraduate and graduate debaters from throughout the world in event after event, particularly for a team comprised of a sophomore and a senior who is new to the international debate format.”

Meany noted that students had performed exceptionally well in what was considered a “rebuilding year” for the Debate Union. “Fifteen of the 20 Claremont students attending national championships were freshmen,” he says.

“All gained valuable experience for the future; several had outstanding success. CMC’s Jesse Katz Blumenthal ’11 and Joseph Clifton ’11 finished in the nation’s top 10. Raymond Lu ’11 and his debate partner Alice Reichman (CMC ’11) placed in the top 20 overall and were ranked second for the novice national championship, an award for those students without prior experience in the international debate format.”--John Meany