Kids Who Talk And Think At The Same Time

March 30, 1993|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

Darren Elliott had a problem.

He'd researched his topic for months -- whether the United Nations should impose sanctions on countries that violate human rights. But when an opposing team brought up the plight of the Australian aborigines, he was at a loss.

In the midst of the largest college debate tournament in the United States, with Towson State University as host, Mr. Elliott didn't have time to run to a library. So he did the next best thing -- he signed onto an electronic data base with his team's laptop computer.

Welcome to the brave new world of collegiate debating.

Within minutes, the 19-year-old freshman from Emporia State University in Kansas struck pay dirt.

"I found articles from the London Times and the New York Times' educational supplement," he said yesterday, as the four-day tournament drew to a close. "They said the government was actually trying to educate the aborigines more, which is helping them."

In the old days -- a year or two ago -- research was done before a tournament, not during one. And woe to the team that didn't do its homework beforehand.

But this past weekend, the new emphasis on technology was highlighted by the number of debate teams using computer data bases, said Robert M. Withycombe, president of Cross-Examination Debate Association -- the intimidating official name of the national debating group.

Dr. Withycombe said the top eight teams all used computer data bases this time, which they accessed by phone using laptop computers, to keep abreast of rapidly changing events in Bosnia and the former Soviet Union -- critical areas for this year's debate topic.

Their favorite services are Lexis, Nexis and Dialog, which make available literally millions of articles from newspapers, magazines and other journals, as well as exhaustive legal libraries.

For Jay Connell, a debater from Florida State University, a computer data base him what he had to know about an area in Serbia called Kosovo. To some experts, Kosovo could be the touchstone that draws other nations into the fighting between Serbia and Croatia.

Mr. Connell, who was named the tournament's best speaker, said that knowledge helped him win some crucial debate rounds.

Kate Shuster, 18, an Emory University student, came to Towson not to debate but to sit in her team's hotel room, waiting for the phone to ring. When it did, she took down the question, signed on to a data base with her computer, retrieved fresh news articles, had them printed out, then took them by cab to the Towson campus.

"I was keeping them up to date," she said. "I think it was the most helpful thing I could do for the team."

The eighth Annual CEDA National Championship attracted some 214 teams from 97 colleges and universities who spent four days debating at the Towson campus and at the Hunt Valley Marriott Inn.

In the end, the Kansas State University team of K. J. Wall and Jill Baisinger defeated the Emporia State team of Jim Haefele and Greg Achten in the championship debate round, 6-1.

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