March 26, 2023
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Two debaters take second place at international tournament

Two Ithaca College students returned from Europe on April 14 bearing a second-place title in the Estonian Open, an international debate tournament.

Sophomores Avery Becker and Sean Themea left Ithaca on April 10 and traveled to the Tallinn University of Technology in Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, for four days as the first members of the Ithaca College Speech and Debate team to travel overseas. Both Becker and Themea joined the debate team this fall.

A total of 124 students from countries around the world participated in the Estonian Open, and Themea and Becker were ranked 14th overall out of 66 teams while placing second in a novice division.

Scott Thomson, assistant professor of communication studies, said the debate team raised about $2,000 during Ithaca Worlds, a debate tournament it hosted Feb. 8–9, to help fund part of the trip to Estonia. As a cocurricular activity under the forensics program within the communication studies department, the debate team also received departmental funding, he said.

For a reasonable cost, Thomson said, Themea and Becker were able to experience a quality debate structure at the Estonian Open on April 12.

The tournament began with five rounds of preliminary debates, each consisting of four teams. At the end of each debate, the judges ranked the teams based on the structure and quality of arguments, rhetorical style, cross examinations, rebuttal of other arguments and adherence to time limits. Themea said after the preliminary rounds, the novice teams — those with less than a year of experience — were taken out of the main bracket and competed among one another in a novice bracket.

Becker said he was surprised he and Themea did so well, as they are both new to the experience and began the first two rounds poorly, coming in third and fourth place, respectively.

“After those rounds we were like, ‘All right, we need to think of a strategy,’ and then we ended up taking first for every single round until the finals,” Becker said. “We knew we were doing well because after each round everyone would kind of be wide-eyed, and they’d walk up and shake your hand.”

In one location, the contestants received the debate topic and their assigned stance for the topic, and they had 15 minutes to formulate arguments and counterarguments before debating in their respective, assigned locations. Themea said he and Becker’s strategy was to be prepared with general knowledge of the conservative and liberal viewpoints surrounding various social issues.

“The only way you could prepare was to kind of have an idea of different philosophies in your head because you can make more arguments based on what was brought up,” Themea said.

Each round covered different topics of debate including performance-enhancing drugs, gender equality, gay rights and military-armed robots, Themea said.

Thomson said the team has been focusing for the past few years on a type of debate called “British parliamentary style debate,” which was utilized at the Estonian Open. This impromptu type of debating has become popular in the northeastern United States and other locations around the world. It involves the participant receiving a given topic 15 minutes before the debate begins, and speeches typically last between five and seven minutes.

“We do some other kinds of debating as well, but now that we’re becoming a little bit more competent in that style of debating, there are tournaments that are available to us all over the world,” Thomson said.

If ever given the chance, Becker said he would love to go back to Estonia.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to have another opportunity in this lifetime to stop by on a full budget, all paid, all expenses paid,” he said.

From now on, the speech and debate team plans to send students to one international tournament in each year, Themea said.

“Ithaca would be able to kind of make a splash overseas, and we really just want to increase the opportunities for students to travel and debate because it’s important,” he said.


Kayla Dwyer, assistant news editor, contributed reporting to this article.