Although members of the Rocky Mountain College debate team traveled to Slovenia in November for a debate camp, there was no time for sightseeing.
“The camp was in the Alps. It was in this pretty nice hotel, and we stayed there pretty much the whole time,” said RMC debate coach Shelby Jo Long-Hammond. “We had 10-, 12-hour days.”
Traveling with Long-Hammond were four members of the team: Anne Ayre, Toryn Rogers, Dan Johnson and Justin Rife. “It was really intense, but I learned more in six days about the European Union than I ever knew in my entire life,” Ayre said. “Also, we worked with a new style of debate, and we learned from the best. They're kind of like debate superstars.”
Even though the group didn't get to see the sights, they still experienced a cultural immersion of sorts.
“There were 24 countries represented,” Long-Hammond said. “It was pretty great sitting around Greece, Romania, Macedonia. Especially in the former Yugoslavia — it's still fracturing. It's a former communist country. They haven't had the right to free speech, and they have it in this area.”
“That was the best part,” Ayre said. “Even though we didn't get out of the hotel much, we got the cultural interaction from talking.”
The Rocky debate team, which has 12 to 15 members, travels a lot during the school year, mostly to Wyoming and Colorado for meets, and occasionally to Oregon and the Seattle area. In this region, the prevalent style of debate is parliamentary debate (where two teams face off to argue a topic they are informed of 15 minutes in advance), “and that's something I'm pulling away from,” Long-Hammond said. “I'm excited that the face of debate is changing.”
While in Slovenia, the focus was on “world debate,” which the team put into practice at a tournament in Ljubljana. “I prefer this new world style,” Rogers said. “It's more about what you're arguing and less about how you argue.”
That's not the only difference between debate in America and debate in Europe. “Shelby fights to get 12 people on her team,” Ayre said. “In Europe, people fight to get on it.”
Part of the problem is the perception of debate in America.
“Debate — it's perceived differently in different countries,” Long-Hammond said. “It's just a different mentality. It's a very social thing, and it is here, too, for the people who know about it.”
Ayre and Rogers both began competing in debate in high school, as did Johnson, who coaches the debate team at West High. Rife is a newcomer — “I picked him out a public-speaking class,” Long-Hammond said — with only one year of experience under his belt.
“I debated all four years in high school,” Rogers said. “I think I just like to argue. Not just argue, I learn both sides of a subject. I want to learn all facets of something.”
Debate, the Rocky team says, isn't as highfalutin an activity as most people think it is. “Most people think of debate and they hear pundits on the radio,” Rogers said. “That's not what it is. It's a civil discourse.”
Long-Hammond hopes to demonstrate the accessibility of debate with an exhibition debate event planned for February. Before that, though, she plans to introduce the world debate style to local high school and college students, with meets on Jan. 8 for high school and Jan. 21 and 22 for college.
“Debate is worldwide,” Long-Hammond said. “I want to bring that world debate to the high school community, that international experience.”
The debaters encourage the public to attend the exhibition event, which is aimed at “nondebaters.”
“We drop the jargon and the technicalities,” Ayre said. “We just focus on broader issues.”