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Notre Dame debate team wins ACC championship

| Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Sophomore Conrad Palor and freshman Patrick Aimone defeated Wake Forest to place first in the fourth-annual ACC Debate Championship Tournament on April 6 at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, clinching the first-ever victory for a Notre Dame team at the tournament.

The championship round was featured as part of the 2019 ACCelerate ACC Smithsonian Creativity and Innovation Festival, which took place April 5 to 7 and included academic exhibitions from Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) schools.

Each ACC school had the chance to send one team to the tournament, with about 10 teams participating in total, Aimone said. Four preliminary rounds were held before Notre Dame and Wake Forest proceeded to the finals.

At the tournament, teams debated whether or not compulsory voting should be implemented in the United States. Each prepared arguments for both sides of the topic — for and against — about three weeks in advance, Aimone said.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Scheffel
Freshman Patrick Aimone, left, and sophomore Conrad Palor, right, post with their trophy after winning the ACC Debate Championship on April 6.

Aimone said the atmosphere of the tournament was “more laid-back” than others at which he competes.

“It was a really fascinating style of the debate because you had all the competitors and all the judges who were experienced in more technical, more progressive forms of debate, but everyone sort of agreed for the purpose of the tournament the style was supposed to be like a public forum — publicly accessible,” he said.

The two teams competed before a panel of judges who released the final verdict shortly after the championship round, Aimone said.

“They took about 10 or 15 minutes to deliberate while we were wandering around the Smithsonian agonizing about every little decision we made in the round,” he said.

Palor said competing against Wake Forest posed a unique challenge, as the school has a history of winning at the tournament.

“We were the first Notre Dame team to win the ACC tournament,” he said.

The debate team’s coach, third-year law student Stephen Scheffel, said the team has around 10 to 12 active members who compete at four or five tournaments every semester.

Scheffel said he was not surprised to see the team place first after watching them prepare.

“We’re lucky because we have so many talented, and especially young, debaters,” Scheffel said. “ … For about two weeks, they were preparing very intensely for it, and even on the plane as we were flying out there, they were on their computers developing arguments.”

Palor, who has been debating since his freshman year of high school, said the skills he has developed through debate serve him in many other areas of his life.

“I think it really helps with public speaking skills, which really is transferable both in classrooms settings but also out of classrooms settings,” he said. “Secondly, it helps you be able to adapt to different audiences.”

Aimone, who began debating in middle school, said he feels debate is “one of the most academically applicable” extracurricular activities. 

“Every skill you build — whether it’s justifying your arguments, seeing a different side of a position — are not only skills that will help you in your academic pursuits but also in discussions and dialogues in the real world,” Aimone said.

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

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