A debate team from the University of Georgia has won the prestigious Copeland Trophy, given to the best team in the U.S. during the course of the season.
The Copeland Trophy was won by Kevin Rabinowitz and Brent Culpepper for their stellar work during the year.
The award was given during the annual National Debate Tournament, held March 30-April 3 in Dallas. It drew debate teams from all over America.
Culpepper and Rabinowitz were the top-rated team in the 78-team field after the preliminary rounds, winning seven of eight debates and accumulating 22 of 24 possible judge decisions. They lost a 3-2 decision to Harvard in the single-elimination phase of the tournament and finished ninth nationally. (Pictured above from left to right: Ed Panetta [director], David Cisneros [assistant coach], Kevin Rabinowitz, Brent Culpepper, Chris McIntosh [debate alumnus, 1999], and Jarrod Atchison [assistant coach]).
Those who might remember the genteel days from years past where debate was a slow, almost solemn time of deliberate arguments might be shocked by college debate of 2007. Students speak with extreme rapidity—sometimes approaching 400 words a minute—as they argue pre-determined subjects. The competition is so physically and mentally arduous that is it sometimes called “Top Gun for geeks.” This year, for example, the debates examined both sides of four important Supreme Court decisions.
UGA has been fielding competitive debate teams for more than 50 years, but this is the university’s first Copeland Trophy. The team had a national reputation from 1964-77, continued as a regional power from 1977-87 and has risen again since then, placing several times in the top 10 at season’s end.
“Debate has been an incredible training ground for developing the habits and skills that will be essential in my early career,” said Rabinowitz, a risk management and insurance major from Fayetteville. “I’ve learned the value of intense preparation and thinking through both sides of an issue to understand a variety of perspectives. Enhanced communication and research skills are only the tip of the iceberg when considering the substantial benefits of intercollegiate debate.”
Current members of the UGA Debate Union are Shivan Bhatt, Brittany Cambre, Roi Ceren, Brent Culpepper, Spencer Diamond, Adam Grellinger, Andrew Hart, Brian Leary, Josh McLaurin, Austin McNair, Duncan Meisel, Todd Mitchell, Kevin Rabinowitz, Adam Schmidt, Maggy Warden and Alicia Yanker.
Winning the Copeland Trophy represents a summit of debate in the U.S., according to UGA’s team director, Edward Panetta, an associate professor of speech communication in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and director of the UGA Debate Union.
“The students in debate at UGA are very bright and very self-motivated,” he said. “As a teacher, I very much enjoy working with people who will significantly impact the world in which they live.”
Preparation is so intense that the UGA team spent spring holidays on campus preparing for the nationals.
“Debate has been a great compliment to my academic studies at UGA because it combines the intellectual activities of research and argumentation with the fun, social aspects of traveling and competing at tournaments,” said Maggy Warden, a freshman pre-business major from Alpharetta. “Debating is rewarding on its own, but the teamwork and unity of the UGA squad makes the activity as a whole that much more enjoyable.”
The program has been growing at UGA both in accomplishments and in the physical space it occupies.
“We occupy the entire ground floor of Phi Kappa Hall, and so we therefore have one of the largest meeting spaces of any debate program in the country,” said Panetta. “Our travel budget allows us to travel several teams on a complete national circuit schedule each year, as well as sending less experienced debaters to a variety of regional and local tournaments.”
Between 10 and 18 students attend debate tournaments in the course of the year. Generally, the squad has between three and five stable teams that travel consistently throughout the year.
In January of this year, the team of Culpepper and Rabinowitz won the select invitational tournament held at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
Each year Dartmouth College invites the seven best teams in the country to compete in a rigorous weekend of debates. The UGA team was the only team in the select event to post a winning record. Culpepper and Rabinowitz compiled a record of five wins and one loss in the round robin event. The UGA debaters defeated teams from Dartmouth, Emory, Harvard, Kansas and Wayne State on the way to a first-place finish.
As a result of that victory, Georgia is now in possession of the Herbert L. James Trophy one of the most prized awards in debate.