Georgetown Debate Team Ranked No. 1 in America
October 25, 2011 – The National Debate Coaches Poll has ranked Georgetown’s policy debate team No. 1 in the country.
This year Andrew Arsht (C’14) and Andrew Markoff (SFS’14) earned second place overall in two tournaments, including one at Georgia State, and won first place out of 160 teams at the Henry Clay Debates at the University of Kentucky.
“Voters tend to focus on the cumulative record of each team,” says Jonathan Paul, director of debate for student programs at Georgetown. “Although we finished second overall at two tournaments, we have a stronger overall record than some of the teams ranked below us.”
The ranking was released earlier this month.
Markoff credits his teammates for Georgetown’s success during the early part of the season and believes the hard work is paying off.
“I really can’t stress enough that the wins come from a massive team effort,” he says. “The work of all 12 of our debaters and all five of our coaches go into every win. Without them, no team accomplishments would be possible.”
Paul notes that Georgetown’s policy debaters arrive on campus a month early to begin research on the season’s topic.
“These kids are spending three to five hours a day beyond their class work just on preparing for debate,” says Paul, who became the team’s coach in 2008. “Then on the weekends, we’re talking about eight to 10 hours.”
Back on Top
Paul credits stable student leadership for the team’s rise back to the top.
He says the program struggled to regain its position as a nationally ranked debate program after being considered “the preeminent place for policy debate in college” in the 1970s, when it won the top ranking fives times.
The team won a national title in 1992, then had mixed success until 2010, when Paul says it “secured an exceptional class of incoming debaters.”
The topic, which this season is the United States' U.S. assistance to promote democracy in the Middle East, is selected in an annual vote by debate programs across the country.
But the debates themselves vary.
“One debate may be about Egypt, the other debate may be about Yemen,” Paul explains. “So you get plenty to talk about without the topic getting stale.”
Debate tournament weekends prove to be grueling, as each competition day lasts 14 to 16 hours. If a team qualifies for the final day of debate, the final round could wrap up as late as 1:30 a.m.
“It’s very much a marathon, an endurance contest mentally and physical as well,” Paul says.
The team’s two main goals are winning the Copeland Award for being the top-ranked team during the regular season and capturing the National Debate Tournament, which takes place the last week of March.
“There’s no doubt that we have one team that will qualify [for the National Debate Tournament] and there will likely be a second team … as well,” Paul says. Each individual team comprises two debaters.
Arsht says the team’s current focus is to be consistent in the team’s performance instead of just focusing ahead to the end-of-season tournament.
“As we say on the team, ‘there are no national championships given out in October,’ ” he says. “My plan right now is to keep up the momentum as best I can.”