What comes to mind when you think of top-ranking competitive teams at the University? Football, hockey and basketball might top most people’s lists. But how about debate?
The Michigan debate team, made up of LSA seniors John Oden and Jonah Feldman, is ranked among the top 16 teams in the country. Debate director Joshua Hoe, a former national champion himself, said 300 teams compete in the National Debate Tournament, the college debating conference.
In April, Oden and Feldman will head to Emory University in Atlanta to compete at the NDT, for the third time.
Last year, the duo arrived at the NDT by winning the district tournament in Illinois. They won their preliminary rounds at the NDT and made it to octofinals.
This year, they received a first-round bid from debate coaches who ranked them among the top 16, granting them an automatic berth in the NDT.
Hoe described the first-round bid as an honor for Oden and Feldman. “The coaches across the country recognize them as one of the top 16 teams out of all those (300) teams,” he said. “It’s what everyone’s working for.”
Feldman and Oden both said receiving the first round did not surprise them. “We expected it,” Feldman said. “We did really well at the end of last year.”
The team has overcome turnover in coaching staff in the last three years, but its members are pleased that Hoe, who came from the University of North Texas, has taken over. “We’ve had a lot of coaching changes. But the results we’ve had are really good,” Feldman said. “We’re really happy with Josh.”
“We’d had a lot of turbulence,” Oden said. “(Hoe) is a stable, long term choice for the team.”
Oden said the team will definitely bring out some new tricks at the NDT, but its strategy will remain a secret until the tournament. “We’ve got a lot of new stuff, a lot of surprises,” he said. “It’s weird – there’s a lot of secrecy.”
This year’s topic is international treaties. While on the affirmative side, a team must argue that the United States should ratify one of five treaties and give reasons why. The International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Treaty, a treaty banning the death penalty, an arms control treaty between Russia and the Unites States and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty are the five topics a team could choose from. Oden and Feldman typically run an affirmative case saying the United States should ratify the International Criminal Court treaty because it would prevent genocide.
A negative team must come up with arguments against their opponents’ affirmative position. One strategy Oden and Feldman have used is to discuss how these treaties negatively affect Israeli policy toward Palestinians.