Davis ’24 on Hosting Largest Debate Tournament in U.S. – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Davis ’24 on Hosting Largest Debate Tournament in U.S.

In the first installment of the Debate Team Diaries, Lillian Davis ’24 offers a firsthand look the challenges and excitement of hosting the national championship, the largest debate tournament in the U.S.More than 40 members of the internationally ranked HWS Debate Club meet three times per week to train for upcoming tournaments. In this series, members reflect on practice and debate sessions. Below, Lillian Davis ’24 describes what it was like to host the United States University Debate Championship, the national championship that is also the largest debate tournament in the U.S.


Have you ever wanted to work in a mission control center? I always thought it looked so exciting and fulfilling in movies — all the fancy computer screens and graphs, important phone calls and urgent instructions. My experience volunteering at the United States University Debate Championships (USUDC) at HWS has fulfilled that dream for me for now — and I think it was probably much less stressful and more fun, too.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many campus clubs and teams have had to suspend competitions and practices. Luckily, debate is not a contact sport, and we have been able to attend and host virtual tournaments this fall. I volunteered for USUDC, hosted by HWS over Zoom. Because hundreds of debaters competed online from around the country, including some members of our team, it took almost the entire HWS Debate team to watch over the sessions and handle any technical difficulties.

On Saturday morning, we arrived at the Vandervort Room and split up into groups. Each group was responsible for watching over one Zoom “building,” in which many simultaneous debates occurred in multiple breakout rooms. Our job was to help direct people to the correct breakout room and to record the progress of each debate on a master spreadsheet to keep the tournament on time for debaters across five time zones and judges from many more. The best part was when the judges were taking too long to deliberate — we got to barge into their breakout rooms and very importantly tell them that their time was up. Although debate isn’t quite the same as outer space travel, this job satisfied my desire to work in a mission control center: computer screens, data collection and important phone calls galore.

While debates were running, we had a small break in the action, at which point Vandervort felt more like a low-key, relaxing slumber party. There were a few dozen of us there at any one time, some working on homework, some playing the piano and singing quietly while others chatted and laughed in small groups. Of course, because we are the debate team, there were also some friendly yet animated arguments.

No matter what everyone had been doing, we were always brought together by food — our coaches ordered pizza or sandwiches for us for lunch and dinner. When it arrived, we would eagerly grab our meals and gather in a (socially distant) circle to talk, banter and watch exciting debates happen online. Volunteering for the USUDC was the most fun I could have imagined having in a mission control room.