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An Easy Argument

Rochester debate team receives support from athletics department

At the University of Rochester, the team with the longest standing on campus fields a roster of 50 members, travels internationally for tournaments and has been attempting to defeat its opposition with words for more than 150 years.

The Rochester Debate Union verbally sparred for the first time in 1850 and, as the tale of its founding reads, the club was created one day before the college. The Debate Union competes in two debate forms – parliamentary and policy – and recently sent its two-person teams into action in Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Jamaica.

So what does the debate team have to do with college athletics? The school formed a campus review committee and identified the debate team as one of several co-curricular teams outside the athletics department that could benefit from institutional support. The result: Yellowjackets Executive Director of Athletics George VanderZwaag, who served on the committee that made the recommendation, assumed operational direction of the debate team. The needs and wants were familiar to VanderZwaag, who oversees 23 Division III varsity teams, allocating budgets, scheduling travel and hiring coaches.

At times in the past, VanderZwaag says, the debaters went without meal money and, in some cases, their own beds on the road. “This works here, given our educational philosophy and our approach to supporting our programs,” he says.

The Debate Union has a head coach, three assistants and, unlike many of the country’s top college debate teams, does not offer scholarships. The goal at Rochester is to bring in many new faces – novice debaters included – to master the skills. “As an international enterprise,”
VanderZwaag says, “it attracts students to Rochester.”

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