In every corner of Orson Spencer Hall, you hear their voices.
They talk so fast that one word runs into the next, stopping only to gasp for breath to sustain the next verbal barrage.Welcome to the world of intercollegiate debate, where jockeying to get an edge in wordwise isn't just an intellectual activity, it's a full blown sport.
Just ask the country's top college debaters competing in the 52nd annual National Debate Tournament under way at the University of Utah. The tournament ends Monday.
"Debate is definitely an endurance test," said Weber State University's Dave Anthony, one of four debaters representing the Ogden school in the national tournament. Weber State is the only Utah school to qualify for the championship tournament.
The game plan changes constantly as debaters encounter new competitors, arguments and judges. Each team carries a booklet that details each judge's philosophy, in the event the team can adjust its performance to his or her preferences.
Debate requires 30-40 hours a week of preparation - hours spent in libraries and searching the Internet for that killer piece of evidence that may help sway the outcome of a debate.
At Weber State University, students can get some credit for competing in debates by enrolling in a for-credit class, "but it comes out to two or three credit hours for 30 or 40 hours a week of work," said Weber State's Jason Menzies, from Couer d'Alene, Idaho.
The precious evidence is filed into stackable Rubbermaid file cabinets, which require handcarts and dollies to transport from room to room. Then there are practices.
And then there's a matter of surviving the tournaments. They frequently consume three or four days, starting at 8 a.m. and running to 10 or 11 p.m. Teams can debate as many as eight rounds before the elimination rounds, which, depending upon the tournament, can mean four more rounds of competition.
Debaters frequently conduct research between rounds or following each day's competition.
Others spend their evenings reveling. Many party with the same intensity they display in the debate rounds.
Debaters taking part in the national championships admit there's not much market for the ability to speak a million miles an hour.
The primary benefits are learning to conduct research and analyze arguments. "You develop the ability to respond quickly to anything thrown at you," said Anthony, who hails from Orem.
Rebecca Bjork, U. debate coach and tournament organizer, started debating when she was 14. "In some ways, I learned more from debate than any other educational setting."Comment on this story
Weber State was the only school in the Rocky Mountain region to qualify two teams for the national championships. Anthony and Menzies, both seniors, compprise one team. Dan Dilsaver of Vernal and Aaron Muranaka of Layton make up the other.
This year's field of competitors includes debate powerhouses Wake Forest, Emory, Baylor, Dartmouth, Duke, Northwestern, Kansas, Georgia and a handful of Ivy League schools for good measure.
Anthony and Menzies say Weber State is competitive because the school gives the team strong financial support and permits debaters to travel throughout the country to compete.
"And we have good coaches," said Menzies. The Wildcats are coached by Mike Bryant and Eric Marlow.