Cambridge University Debaters Win Weekend Contest In Dallas | KERA News

Cambridge University Debaters Win Weekend Contest In Dallas

Feb 2, 2015

The Super Bowl is over, but Dallas hosted another kind of contest this weekend with international implications - and a slightly smaller audience. The third annual Old Parkland Debate tournament featured high school and college debaters from across the U.S. and teams from several countries. Meet the Cambridge University team that beat the Oxford University debaters to claim the college division win.

Members of the Cambridge University debate team from England say they debate for different reasons. Some are interested in law and politics and debate is great training for thinking and arguing on your feet. That wasn’t George Clay’s reason.

“I got into it because I loved acting at my primary school, discovered I wasn’t particularly talented at that when I got to secondary school, and debate seemed like a good substitute," Clay says.

Debate’s not theater, but Clay says the two have much in common.

“Intense degrees of emotional manipulation, being profoundly disingenuous all the time and doing it all in front of audiences who think you’re cleverer than you are,” Clay says. “It’s an excellent hobby.”

Cambridge University debater George Clay won best speaker during this weekend's college and high school debate contest in Dallas.
Credit Steve Foxall

Muhammad Asadullahkahn, who goes by Assad, fell in love with the tough topics and the intellectual rigor that debate requires. Plus he could explore topics not easy to pursue in his Pakistan culture.

“Debating forced me to think a lot about some of the things that my society sort of teaches you in a very dogmatic fashions,” Asadullahkahn says. “Things such as religion, politics, things ranging from abortion to gay marriage.  Something that was never really debated in society but when you enter into debating, it forces you to think about a lot of things that otherwise you don’t get an opportunity to do so.”

Debaters like being around others who do the same thing. James Riseley, from Australia, says the camaraderie and competition comes from learning  tricks of the trade

“It’s true you don’t know the topic you’re about to debate. But most debates aren’t the results of fresh ideas and a bit of thought,” Riseley says. “If you’ve debated the same issue a couple of times you realize lots of things said in debates we pluck out of other debates as well. So often it’s more rehashing old ideas and thinking how they apply to this topic. Like debaters are basically plagiarizing themselves constantly.”

Riseley says win or lose, debaters always learn something   

“My coach back at school had quite a useful a maxim, which was if you haven’t won very clearly you haven’t won at all because if it was messy, that was your fault and you need to try and do better the next time," Riseley says.

And Even if he’s tempted to debate it, he knows the judge’s decision is final. The next time this team debates, it’ll be back home in Cambridge.

Cambridge University’s George Clay won best speaker in the college division.  Dallas’ Greenhill School debaters beat team Canada in the high school division.