University of Utah’s John R. Park Debate Society won the season-long national championship by winning three out of four tournaments. The championship title awarded by the National Parliamentary Debate Association is based on the four best performances of the season.
The competition sparked early when the team’s planning picked up back in August. After nine months of highly strategic work and around 10 competitions across the country, the Utes were able to pull ahead. This championship went to the team as a whole.
“There are a lot of debate awards that recognize individual accomplishment,” said director of the debate society, Michael Middleton. “But there is nothing like being part of an environment where everyone in the room knows that they are where they are because they trusted one another, trusted their coaches and made sure to be there for one another on their way to the finish line.”
When the team wins it is a win for a team, not a single person, forming a high level of comradery.
“Everyone is a part of the victory,” said team member, Christopher De Freitas. “Everyone’s a part of everyone’s victory.”
The members and leaders of the team are all able to consistently learn from each other and create a unique bond.
“My favorite part about directing the debate team is not winning, even though we do a lot of that. It is a context where I am able to mentor students across their four years in college, help them find their professional and personal passions, and work to guide them toward those achievements. It is unlike any other relationship one can have with a student, and when students graduate it feels like losing a member of your family,” Middleton said.
De Freitas was able to share how different college debate is when compared to high school debate teams. The team encounters skyrocketed levels of competition and a steep learning curve. Even with the increased difficulty, to De Freitas, it is a worthwhile experience.
“It is the most rewarding extra-curricular activity that I have ever participated in, or even witnessed,” said De Freitas.
The skills members learn in this competitive environment of communication pushes how they think.
“Debate is one of the single most transformative experiences in which students can participate,” said Middleton. “In any context, it teaches critical thinking, ethical competitive values and effective communication. In our current political context, I am convinced that it provides a place where students can learn the practices of ethical dialogue that are absent in our political discourse.”
The year-long nationwide championship came with a high sense of accomplishment for each member of the John R. Park team.
“The best part of achieving the national championship was watching a group of 18 students work together as a team all year to accomplish a competitive goal that exceeded any accomplishment any one of them achieved individually before or during their time at the U.”