Up until the late 1970s, the two-person debate team was the only style offered
in school- called "policy" debate. Now, the most popular form is the "Lincoln-Douglas"
style debate, where three team members argue their affirmative or negative stand on an
issue. Bishop Kearney's debate team Coach Kevin Downes, says on the way to determining
a winner, a judge must first decide whether the affirmative and negative sides have been proven.
DOWNES: As a judge, I follow what's called a flow sheet. There are columns for each
speech that the debators give throughout the contest. And you start with a set of
arguments in the affirmative sppech. And then a set of arguments in the negative.
Rebuttals follow. Arguments evolve differently. One debator may drop one argument and
concentrate on others. As a judge I need to run that flow sheet to follow these arguments
that are being made.
Chris Regan has learned that one judge may see a debate completely different than
another referee. And the Unites States judges are much more picky about the individual
components of an argument.
REAGAN: You won't find that in the International style because they don't take notes in
great detail. They might remember the argument, they may not. You have to focus on it and
make it the focus of the debate if you want judges to vote on it. But often, the judge
doesn't hear the debate the way you do. You get the ballot back, the judge's critique of
you, and you discover that that judge was listening to something and thought something was
important that nobody else in the world thought was important. And sometimes it happens
that way because of the way the judge thinks- which is of course, something you don't know
Downes says two of Reagan's strengths are his preparation and analysis going into a
match, and his ability to adjust and adapt to the ongoing resolution.
DOWNES: The key word is persuasion. And in the US, persuasion is probably 95 percent
content in strategy of the arguments and to a smaller extent presentation-style. And
international style will weigh a little heavier on the presentation-ability and how
effective a speaker is.
Reagan is the current Lincoln-Douglas New York State champion, and scoffs at the past
presidential debates- calling it more like related oratory with structually weak
arguments. Chris reads whatyever he can to stays abreast of current events and
controversy- especially social and political philosophy views. he admits to scrapping the
flannel shirts and knit ties early in his debating career to a more traditional side. He
says one objective in winning the match is to get the opponent to come over to your side-
responding to your presentation. Anything goes, even humor to prove a point, making use
of each and every second of alloted time.
REAGAN: It's a good feeling to be able to do that because it's something that not a lot
of the people can do. A lot of people cannot get up and give speeches at very short
notice, on complicated, interesting topics.. and have people standing up and interupting
them and trying to take them apart, and still do well.. and still present effectively.
It's something you can take pride in doing. It's a lot of fun.
Chris says debate contributes to analysis and persuasion skills in everyday life. But
there's a time and place for everything.
REAGAN: You have to know when to shut up about something. That's something that's hard to
come by when you learn how to argue. You can't go five-pointing your mom's decision to
send you to bed.. for reasons of liberty, justice and Milton totalitarism it isn't right
for you to go to bed at that time. It doesn't work out that way. But eventually, people
do learn that they better be ready if they want to argue with you about politics or
anything else. Because you're gonna be there with a consistent position and you're gonna
make sense when you talk.
Chris Reagan and Kevin Downes of the Bishop Kearney High School Debate team. Bill
Flynn, WXXI 1370.