Nevada's 'Lady Gaga' of Debate

Senior Max Alderman took the top prize in the National Parliamentary Debate Association’s Championship Tournament.

University senior Max Alderman, far right.

3/28/2011 | By: Claudene Wharton  |

Although his debate coach teases him by calling him the "Lady Gaga of Debate," due to the humor and personality he brings each time he takes the podium, make no mistake. University of Nevada, Reno senior Max Alderman is a force to be reckoned with in the debate community. On Saturday, he was named Top Individual Speaker at the National Parliamentary Debate Association's Championship Tournament in Colorado Springs, beating out 306 top collegiate debaters for the number one spot in one of the two major collegiate championships in the country.

Alderman placed second individually in the tournament last year, but this year, "He blew away the competition," said Phil Sharp, Nevada's debate coach and director of forensics. "It was just his talent as a speaker and his knowledge. He's very well-informed and he's just been blessed with a likability that you can't deny."

In the awards ceremony held late Saturday evening, Alderman was also recognized as an All-American, one of only four debaters in the nation to receive the honor this year, in recognition of the numerous tournaments and top-speaker awards he has earned during his debate career.

"Many consider Max to be the best collegiate debater in the country," Sharp said.

Alderman takes on the powerful Irish National Team

In addition to taking the top individual honors in the tournament, Alderman helped the United States to pull off a tie with the powerful Irish debaters for the first time in the 16-year-old U.S.-Irish debate competition that kicks off the tournament, held each year around Saint Patrick's Day. Three top senior debaters from across the country are chosen to represent the United States each year.

Nevada is one of only two universities to have been represented in the event three years in a row, with Matthew Hogan and David Pena (now alumni) representing the United States in 2010 and 2009, respectively. This year, Alderman teamed up with Zach Tschida from the University of Puget Sound and Joel Minor from Colorado College to tie the Irish team, which is always comprised of post-graduate debaters who win an Irish national competition.

Alderman knows Tschida and Minor well and holds them in high regard. Before the debate, he described Tschida as "the most persuasive speaker," and Minor as "the smartest, extremely intelligent and full of facts."

The Irish debaters are always known for their humor and ability to win over the audience in the fun-spirited event that they have won every year, but that's where Sharp predicted that Alderman could make it a real contest this year. Although Alderman, a National Merit Scholar, is extremely bright, aspiring to attend law school or pursue his doctorate after he graduates in December, Sharp says it is Alderman's ability to let his personality shine through that often distinguishes him when he competes.

"Max's friendly nature and concern for the silenced in our world has endeared him to many, while his humor and personality have won over even the most cynical of people," he said.

After Alderman and his U.S. teammates formally achieved the tie against the Irish, Sharp stated that he had called it right.

"Max's performance was by far recognized with the largest applause from the audience. He truly stole the show with his wit and brilliance."

Alderman was characteristically humble, simply stating, "We were the funniest," and giving credit to his teammates. "Joel had so many facts and statistics, and Zach kind of pulled it all together."

Alderman and freshman McGuire take fifth

Two years ago, Alderman teamed up with aforementioned Nevada teammate Pena to take first place as a debate duo in both this tournament and the other major national tournament held each year. Last weekend, he teamed up with new Nevada debater, freshman Jonathon McGuire, to place fifth in the national tournament, among a field of over 150 teams. McGuire was the sole freshman to make it to the tournament's "Sweet 16." Fellow Nevada debaters Steve Prior and Travis Salley, along with Aaron and Nidsa Mouritsen, a brother and sister team, also competed.

"Jonathon rose to the challenge of partnering with the best debater in the nation, and his hard work paid off," Sharp said of the freshman.

Sharp said Alderman and McGuire had become a fan favorite, causing the remaining competitors in the round of 16 some concern about an impending match-up with the "hot" team. The two were finally narrowly defeated by Whitman College, earning the fifth-place overall finish after defending increased funding for childcare for families under the poverty line.

Alderman moving on

Alderman, who is majoring in philosophy and political science, plans to hang up his debating hat to allow him to prepare for application to both the prestigious Rhodes and Marshall Scholarship Programs. He was awarded a Critical Language Scholarship from the U.S. State Department in a highly competitive process similar to the Fulbright Scholarship Program, which earned him the opportunity to spend two months in Korea this summer in an intense program to learn the language.

He says despite his exciting plans, it will be hard for him to give up debate.

"It's been such a big part of my life for such a long time," he said. "Just getting to hang out with kids from across the country and exchange ideas about politics and issues with some of the most brilliant people I've ever met - that's what I've enjoyed the most. It was really a lot of fun."


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