Students Outside The Campus Center

Just to clarify the history a bit, or at least over-explain: Amherst Debate started in 1977, when David Bailin '81 and Larry Eichenfield '80 went to the Brown tournament.  At the time, as the official APDA history indicates, parliamentary debate was a catch-as-catch-can business, with the few existing tournaments advertised more by word of mouth than anything else.  Bailin had debated in high school with the president of the Brown society, and the trip seemed a lark.

It wound up changing American parliamentary debate.  In those days, debators actually argued the resolution as written (that's changed, but I won't get all fuddy-duddy about it.)  Bailin and Eichenfield were the first to introduce the concept of punning off one of the words in the resolution; indeed, what is now known as "squirreling" the resolution was originally called "the Amherst Squirrel."  They also brought in theatricality.  Eichenfield, a pre-med, had brought a couple of pairs of scrubs to the tournament for reasons best left unconsidered here.  Faced with the resolution "A house divided cannot stand," the two donned the scrubs and argued whether the medical process of dividing the brain would reduce the ability of Congress to "stand," or to rule sensibly on legislation. 

They won the tournament.  (Yes, Amherst Debate began with victory.)  That experience led them to further tournaments and to formally create the Amherst College Debate Society,. recruiting a few other students to the team.

The next year, an established activity on campus, they recruited a crop of both experienced high-school debaters like Tim Searchinger and Lisa Chang, and novices like me, and Amherst Debate was off and running.  As you note above, we won numerous tournaments over the next few years, including the national team championship in 1981 and national individual titles in 1981 and 1982.  Amherst's ballot became the model for the official APDA score sheet, and we ran the first successful computer-matched and -scored tournament, thanks to programming by Miller Maley '83.  (A certain school had tried a computer tournament earlier with disastrous results; it won't be named, but is located in Princeton, NJ.)  The team's success also led President Julian Gibbs to have a dedicated trophy case installed in Converse Hall.

Amherst also introduced a new level of excellence in running tournaments.  The Amherst team insisted on testing resolutions beforehand; if the team could not come up with at least four separate lines of argument for a resolution, it was discarded.  Judge training was not only present, but thorough.   And there were the odd touches; for example, the tournament's traditional date of Pearl Harbor weekend one year included ice-cream battleship centerpieces that gradually melted as the tournament dinner progressed, thanks to Donna DiBernardo '84.)

--JJ Gertler '82

 
 

Students Outside The Campus Center