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Trinity’s New Debate Director Begins Next Chapter of the Program
By Russell Guerrero ’83

After a one-year hiatus, the Trinity debate program is back in action through the efforts of Jarrod Atchison, the new director of debate.

Jarrod, an assistant professor of speech and drama, takes over the program that for years was under the leadership of Professor Frank Harrison.  He revitalized the program in 1988, making it successful and competitive until retiring in 2006.

Although new to Trinity, Jarrod has been debating for much of his life. He started in 8th grade at the suggestion of his mother, a former high school debate coach. “I found it to be the most intellectually rigorous game I’ve ever tried,” he said. 

After high school, Jarrod attended Wake Forest University on a debate scholarship and was a member of the university’s debate team throughout his undergraduate career. He qualified all four years to compete in the National Debate Tournament, the premier collegiate event sponsored by the American Forensic Association and open to only the top 76 teams in the country.  The last two years Jarrod and his partner were ranked as one of the top 16 teams in the country and received first round bids to the annual event.

After receiving his bachelor’s in communication, Jarrod remained at Wake Forest to earn a master’s and to become an assistant debate coach. From Wake Forest, he would attend the University of Georgia to earn a PhD. in speech communication and serve as an assistant debate coach.

It was during the last year of his graduate work that Jarrod learned Trinity was seeking a new debate director.  He said he knew about Trinity not only from its competitive reputation but because the brother of his senior year debate partner was one of Trinity’s best debaters.

Brooks Hill, professor and chair of the speech and drama department, said Jarrod impressed the search committee. “He was the catch of the year on the market,” Brooks said.

In the short time he’s been at Trinity, Jarrod already has brought several changes to the debate program.  First, with generous support from the University, the debate suite in the speech and drama department has been given a technological facelift.  The room has been renovated and new computers, printers, and scanners have been added to help students prepare their arguments.

Second, the debate program has expanded to 26 debaters paired into 13 teams. The squad includes all skill levels, from novice members who have never debated before to junior varsity and varsity members who have some years of experience.

Third, Jarrod wants to hold more debate events on Trinity’s campus to showcase the program’s expertise. Under the banner “Argument in Action,” the team’s first event was a debate against the British Debate Team, which came to Trinity for the first time this last semester. Another event is planned for the spring.

What wasn’t expected was the support from former debaters.  A handful of alumni have traveled with the team to help coach the young debaters and volunteer as judges.  Frank Harrison even returned to take part of the debate team to a tournament in Pennsylvania while Jarrod took other members to a tournament in Georgia.

In its new configuration, the team is doing well. All teams have won at least one debate at each tournament and most have won two or three matches. But Jarrod has set a lofty mission for the program.       

“Our goal for the year is to try our hardest is to quality for the National Debate Tournament. It’s a very difficult goal but we define success for the program as setting a very high goal for yourself and trying to see what you can accomplish.”

© 2007 Trinity University

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