The William Jewell College debate team kicked off their season with the Rice and Friends Parli Opener Sept. 26 and 27. Tavarus Pennington, junior communication major, and Kenton Fox, junior Oxbridge history of ideas major finished in the top eight at the virtual tournament. They won two debates before facing off with University of California, Berkeley.
The team of Gemma Flores-Olivera, junior physics major, and Jack Trent, first-year history major, rounded off the entries from Jewell. Adam Testerman, director of debate communication and assistant professor of communication, was pleased with the team’s performance at the tournament.
“Our team of first year debater, Jack Trent and his partner, Gemma Flores-Olivera faced off against several excellent opponents and it is awesome to see them develop their team identity,” Testerman said. “This is the best showing [Fox] and [Pennington] have put together in college debate and I am so impressed by them.”
Pennington and Fox have been debating at Jewell together since their first year. Fox enjoys the pace and complexity of debate.
“The debate game seems to stand alone in its capacity to call into question its very existence as a game, as a game among games, as the game in which we are competing when we talk entirely too fast using jargon exceeding even an acceptable academic vocabulary,” Fox said.
“Then some Berkeley a**holes beat us because they, despite having no theoretical depth, were undeniably better at the game,” Fox concluded.
Fox thinks it was his and Pennington’s ability to play the game that got them to the quarterfinals, where they were defeated by Berkeley.
William Jewell debate has undergone several changes this year. This is Testerman’s first year at Jewell. He comes to the college from Texas Tech University, where he spent five years as the director of debate.
Testerman says he has always been impressed by Jewell’s showing at debate tournaments and respected the program. His first tournament as a college debater even took place at William Jewell.
“When the position for Director of Debate came open, I jumped at the opportunity,” Testerman said of his decision to come to Jewell. “I love our beautiful campus, my [colleagues] in the Communication Department, and the opportunity to lead a storied debate program, especially one that the College recognizes as a core part of its identity.”
Another change facing Jewell debate is COVID-19. Typically debaters travel around the country for tournaments, but many of those tournaments are now being hosted virtually. Testerman notes that this new format does shift the dynamic.
“Many of the tools of persuasive speaking are thought to be achievable through in-person interactions, so finding new ways to package our performances has been a challenge, but one that we embrace. With difficult circumstances also come new opportunities – we feel incredibly lucky that we do an activity that can happen in these difficult times,” Testerman said.
Testerman is grateful that debate is able to continue with some semblance of normalcy when so many activities have had to pause competition. He is looking forward to the team improving this year.
“My hope is to establish a strong commitment to competition and approach the year seeking to be the best version of ourselves. Finding competitive success is a process, but we have greatness in us – I am looking forward to finding out who we are and what we can achieve,” Testerman said.
One of Testerman’s goals is to get more students involved in debate. The debate team is hoping to become more active on campus this year and to host a public Zoom debate later this semester.
Testerman is also considering starting a debate club in addition to the debate team for more students to join.
He encourages any students who want to be involved in debate to reach out, as there may be opportunities outside of the team’s competitive schedule.