UAA vs. Yale debates


“The best debates are not the ones that conclude discussions, but begin them,” director of Seawolf Debate Steve Johnson said in closing following the vigorous British Parliamentary debate held in a packed East High Auditorium on March 20.
The motion of the evening read, “No public funds should go to support competitive athletics in public education.” Yale, as the proposition, debated in support of the motion, while UAA acted as the opposition.
Recent UAA graduates Matthew Stinson and Brittany Bennett, who met as opponents in the final round of the 2010 UAA Cabin Fever debates with no prior competitive experience, found themselves teaming up against Sam Ward-Packard and Sesenu Woldemariam of the Yale Debate Association, the most successful intercollegiate debating club in the nation.
Woldemariam began Yale’s eight-minute introduction proposing three arguments; athletics diminish the quality of education in public schools; the benefits they offer are directed towards the privileged and ignore the most vulnerable; and that high school sports encourage harmful cultural norms.
Speaking to the last point Woldemariam stated, “There’s already enough influence within our general culture to value the body above the mind being directed towards the youth. We think that, if anything, in schools kids should be getting the opposite message, the idea that they’re useful because of their intellect.”
Stinson, responding in opposition, listed the many perceived benefits of athletics in public schools, stating that students who participate in high school sports have higher GPAs, are less likely to use drugs or join gangs, more likely to attend college, more politically active and end up with incomes as much as 33 percent higher.
Woldemariam interjected with a question for Stinson, known as a point of information, asking why money ought to be spent on athletics when it is taking away from funding that could be used for other pursuits.
“That 1 percent for the Anchorage School District is well spent on athletic programs within our city … because it enhances education programs and without them we would just have club sports with no education component, pitting sports, with our culture that loves sports, against academics,” Stinson replied.
Proposing for Yale, Ward-Packard laid into Stinson’s figure, saying, “You know how many teachers you could hire with 1 percent of the Anchorage School District budget? … fifty-four teachers … that would significantly decrease the student-teacher ratios in some classrooms.”
Stinson made a point of information that Yale should not focus on athletics as the only thing that can be cut, suggesting that cuts could start with the $1.7 billion spent annually on standardized testing.
Bennett, in her opposition for UAA, echoed Stinson’s sentiments on No Child Left Behind, and also emphasized the importance of athletics in engaging kids who may not fit the mold.
“We think that because kids learn differently, we must provide the maximum amount of safety nets to catch each and every one of the children that come through our educational system,” Bennett said.
Bennett also argued that cuts in athletics could set a precedent for cuts to other vital programs, theater and debate among them.
“What this says is when we decide that something does not provide you with the career opportunities that we would like it to, or it does not contribute to the school system that we have standardized by our federal government, that we ought to eliminate it,” Bennett said.
One feature of the debate, modeled on the British House of Commons, allows for speakers from the audience to provide their own one-minute argument in proposition and opposition to the motion.
Most of the 24 speakers harped on the same points made by the UAA and Yale teams, but some offered points not covered.
“The vast majority of professional sports players in this country are minorities … and these are the role models for minority kids in school. How are these kids planning on getting into college? They want that sports scholarship. We are spending money creating a system that tells these minority kids be fast, be strong, you will succeed, but it’s one in 10,000 that succeeds. That is not social justice. This is teaching kids they have a chance when they’re doomed to fail,” one unidentified speaker said in proposition.
Following five-minute rebuttals by UAA and Yale summarizing the teams’ main arguments, Johnson announced the results of the audience’s text message polling, displaying percentages from the beginning and end of the debate.
Though UAA held onto a majority 53 percent of the audience in disagreement with the motion, the winner was determined by which team created the most movement of opinion. Yale was pronounced winner with a shift from 36 percent in agreement with the motion to 41 percent by the end of the night.

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