Debate Speaks Up, Loud and Clear

University debate team poised for another strong post-season run

3/16/2010 | By: Claudene Wharton  |

They called him “Mumbly Matt.”

Now, the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) has chosen University of Nevada, Reno senior Matt Hogan as one of three college students in the nation to represent the United States March 19 in the annual “United States versus Irish Debate.”

“They used to make fun of me because I was mumbly, quiet and shy,” the Carson High graduate said. “So, I took my first debate class as an elective in high school to prove to myself that I could communicate better. Now, people can’t get me to shut up.”

The political science major now exudes confidence, but also humility and graciousness. He proudly states that he is a “first-generation, low-income” college student, who has worked full-time while attending the University while maintaining a 3.86 grade point average. The McNair Scholar also took one year off after graduating from Carson High to work and save some money for college.

“Matt’s very personable and has real charm,” said Phil Sharp, director of Nevada’s debate program. “He’s going to be a crowd favorite. His debate style is oriented toward a public audience.”

Because of this, Sharp likes the United States’ chances of upsetting the Irish this year, since the winning team is chosen by a crowd vote, not judges. Usually, the Irish debaters are more entertaining and are “graduate and Ph.D. students with about 10 years of college-debating experience,” according to Sharp.

The U.S. debaters are always undergraduates, usually seniors, chosen by the NPDA based on three criteria: sportsmanship and diplomacy, forensic and academic achievement, and effectiveness in public debate.

Pack poised for another run

The U.S.-Irish debate is held each year at the beginning of the NPDA’s Championship Tournament, which is always held around Saint Patrick’s Day and is being hosted by Texas Tech in Lubbock this year. This is the second consecutive year that a Nevada student has been chosen to represent the United States. Last year, David Pena, then a Nevada senior, was chosen for the honor.

In addition to participating in the U.S.-Irish debate, Hogan will be teaming up with Nevada junior Max Alderman to compete in the regular portion of the NPDA Championship Tournament, one of the two major national collegiate debate tournaments held annually. Last year, Alderman, a Reno High graduate, teamed up with Nevada’s Pena to take first place in the tournament, beating 232 of the nation’s best college debate duos. Pena has since graduated, but Sharp says Alderman and Hogan are one of the favorite teams going into this year’s tournament, which he says is going to be “a grueling, long, juggernaut of a tournament,” with about 300 teams competing. Four other Nevada debaters will also compete in the tournament.

The following weekend, Hogan and Alderman will represent Nevada at the other national tournament, the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE) held at Azusa Pacific University in California. The tournament is an invitational featuring the 64 top-ranked teams in the nation – the NCAA Tournament of debate, so to speak. To be invited, teams must earn points based on their performance in regional debates during the season, which begins in September. Alderman and Hogan got a late start competing as a team this year, since Alderman spent the fall semester studying abroad in London. Still, the duo racked up enough wins to qualify for the invitational.

“In just a few weeks, they skyrocketed up the list,” Sharp explained. “They took first in several competitions, and third in others. In their first debate ever competing together, in early February, they took first.”

A history-making year

Last year, Nevada’s Pena and Alderman also took first at the NPTE, becoming only the third team in the history of collegiate parliamentary debate to win the sport’s two most prestigious prizes in the same season. This year, in addition to Alderman and Hogan, two other Nevada debaters will earn an invitation to the tournament. Sharp beams with pride when he talks about his nationally recognized debate team.

“They are very well-liked by the national debate community. They affectionately call our team ‘UN-er’,” he said. “They are all just really pleasant and have a reputation for being inclusive and friendly.”

Sharp says that his team is incredibly diverse, yet they work together very effectively.

“This is one of the strongest, most close-knit teams in the country,” Sharp said. “The 15 team members rely on each other and spend gross amounts of time together. They are resources for each other in and outside of debate.”

Hogan, also the team’s captain, obviously sets a tone of “all-for-one, one-for-all.”

“The greatest part for me is helping other individuals learn and grow,” he said, adding that one day he plans to be a teacher, and then a professor. “That’s a lot more meaningful than just winning, having the opportunity to have an impact.

Hogan is hoping he and his two American teammates will have an impact on the audience when they face the Irish on Friday. Posting a win in the U.S.-Irish debate would be especially sweet for Hogan, who celebrates his 24th birthday that day.


For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

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