A Reflection on PKD Nationals

Being a week out of the tournament, a little reflection is always a good thing. In terms of results, we exceeded any expectations we had going in. Kevin and I made it to finals, and received the distinction of Superior in prelims, meaning we were in the top 10% of seeding. Bayley and Raffi were award an Excellent distinction, meaning they were in the top 30% of seeding.

The tournament as an event was in itself was a unique experience. As a budding team, St. Olaf Debate has been trying to find exactly where we fit in terms of the larger forensics community. So, in typical forensics fashion, here’s three points of analysis on what we experienced at PKD, juxtaposed against last year’s NPDA nationals experience, and what it means for the team.

Tournament Logistics

Basically anyone who was at PKD will tell you the tournament this year was, shall we say, questionably run. Rounds of different styles of debate were run back to back with no transition time in between. Which just on face seems like a bad idea. At the end of each day, the tournament was somewhere shy of two hours behind schedule. We didn’t find out who made quarterfinals until nearly 1:00AM on Saturday. Compared to NPDA, PKD loses pretty handily on  this front.


At NPDA Nationals last year, you could feel the elitism is the air. I understand that saying seems unnessarily exclusionary and hypocritical, but I digress. Most of the people at the tournament regularly traveled the national circuit, smaller schools were all but nonexistant, and in general we just never really felt welcome. PKD was pretty much the polar opposite. We actually knew several coaches there from Minnesota schools who were willing to be our surrogate coaches when we needed things, people at tab and registration seemed excited to have St. Olaf back at the tournament (apparently back in the school’s forensics heyday in the 90’s, St. Olaf regularly attended the tournament), and in some sort of intangible way everyone just seemed friendlier. We genuinely enjoyed our time there and referred to the week as “Spring Break, Part I”.

Debate Style

Really, this is the big one, and PKD wins by miles. We had to really work for every single  round because the  competition was tough, but we never felt like we lost the round because we got excluded due to stylistic concerns. At NPDA, the culture definitely centered around speaking as fast as you possibly can with no concern for clearness of delivery while making every impact as large in magnitude as possible (if you’re not talking about human extinction due to genocide, thermonuclear war, or global warming, then you’re doing it wrong there). It’s basically just circuit Policy debate without the cards.

PKD felt like everything we want Parli to be. First, we were allowed internet access during prep time. The purpose, however, ended up being more for fact-checking and clarifying, rather than some sort of evidence arms race or having to learn an entirely new idea on the spot. Second, all the resolutions were specific enough to make prep time meaningful while allowing both teams to be flexible in what they specifically ran. Even better, the distinction between facts cases, policy cases, and value cases were always very clear and ended up being debated well. Third, using theory was permissible. Most judges didn’t love the idea of arbitrary procedurals, but they understood the necessary role it played in debate. We had multiple judges vote on good, reasonable topicality. Best of all, the debate was just grounded in reality. People used link stories and impacts that you could actually say straight-faced outside of a round with a delivery style appropriate for a real public speaking event. If we had to make a comparison, each round felt like an outround at state. We have no reservations about making this St. Olaf’s regular national tournament.

In 2014, St. Olaf is PKD-bound.

True to our credo, we engaged the world through substantive debate, strengthened friendships, and yes, won some awesome trophies.

True to our credo, we engaged the world through substantive debate, strengthened friendships, and yes, won some awesome trophies.


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