In just its first year of existence, the ORU debate team can add a national championship to its resume.
Junior Sarah Sandford and freshman Joseph Jackson took home first place in the Junior Varsity division at the National Championship for the National Parliamentary Debate Association held March 9 -11 in Hutchinson, Kan.
Experienced debaters in high school, the duo went undefeated during the tournament, beating out a team from Sterling College in the championship round.
“I figured it would be a building year, just a matter of starting our debate team and trying to break into the debate circuit,” said Sandford, originally from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “Winning a national championship is a once in a lifetime kind of feeling.”
“I was literally in shock,” added Jackson, originally from Visilia, Calif. “No way we could have predicted such success so soon.”
Although it has been in the works for some time, the club was birthed this summer, after Susan and Steve Jackson, 1984 business graduates of ORU and parents of Joseph, saw the need for a debate team and decided to fund the entire project. Money goes toward, transportation, entry fees, accommodations and food money for the weekend competitions.
The decision was made regardless of whether Joseph would attend ORU or not.
“We saw the potential for fabulous Christian leadership to come out of that whole area,” Susan told Excellence magazine earlier this year. “We felt ORU needed to tap into these kids that were skilled in their communication and thought process, in being able to verbalize a stand for what they believed and why they believed it.”
Other awards the two took home at the national championship were for impromptu speaking, extemporaneous speaking, and individual parliamentary speaking.
When asked about their success as a duo, Jackson and Sandford are quick to point to their teammates and coaches.
“The best part is the relationship aspect of it,” said Sandford. “Our team’s really close, we have a lot of inside jokes and it’s just a really enjoyable experience.”
The team is coached by an assistant professor of communication Dr. Agena Farmer and Tulsa Attorney Molly Brown.
It consists of six to eight members who practice weekly in their Forensic workshop class taught by the two coaches.
Once the Jackson family had decided to fund the team, Dr. Farmer put in ad in the local paper looking for an assistant coach and although she had many replies from those fond of ORU, once she got a reply from Brown she knew she was the one.
“Molly absolutely loves this; she works really well with the students,” said Dr. Farmer.
Brown, who holds a degree in jurisprudence and currently is an attorney, debated throughout high school and according to Jackson and Sandford; went undefeated her junior and senior year of college.
Before each debate, participants are given fifteen minutes to prepare on the selected topic. Each team gets three speeches and four people speak alternating sides per round. At the end, a judge decides a winner.
A team usually goes through five rounds a day, then depending on their record may advance to a March Madness Style elimination tournament playoff.
The three divisions for the National Parliamentary Debate Association are Novice, Junior Varsity and Varsity.
Looking forward, both Sandford and Jackson will continue on and hope to return a core group of core members as well as attract new ones.
“I’d love to see the team grow, to be something that more people take part in and become a fixture on campus,” said Jackson.
”I think that any institution of higher learning, especially a university that wants to represent thinking, responsible people owes it to the students to have an opportunity to learn how to converse about something without being mad,” said Dr. Farmer.