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Although Lafayette College's new Forensics Society has been competing for less than a month, one debater, Jason Paul, has already qualified to represent Lafayette in the Lincoln-Douglas competition at the National Forensics Association National Tournament April 14-19 at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Mich.

Paul, a first-year student from Boca Raton, Fla., has had remarkable success in his initial collegiate outings. He placed second in the Lincoln-Douglas competition in the Pennsylvania State Championships Feb. 19-20 at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. The weekend before that he qualified for the national championships through his performance at a two-day “swing” tournament at Simmons College and Suffolk University in Boston. At the team's debut competition, the Russell D. Martin Invitational Tournament at Cornell University Feb. 5-7, Paul placed first in the public forum debate, winning a near-unanimous decision from the audience members who served as judges in the final round.

“For a freshman to qualify for the NFA national Lincoln-Douglas tournament in only his second collegiate tournament is virtually unprecedented,” says Bruce A. Murphy, the Fred Morgan Kirby Professor of Civil Rights and director of forensics. “This give us a real leg up in developing our debate team. Some schools go years without qualifying anybody and we've been able to do it in our second tournament.”

Paul narrowly missed qualifying for the national tournament in another category of competition, extemporaneous speaking, at the state tournament, which included dozens of top individuals from Pennsylvania's strongest debating schools. At Cornell, he placed ninth in the Lincoln-Douglas competition while also garnering seventh in speaker totals.

Paul and junior Andy Gupta of Pune, India, are cofounders and copresidents of the Forensics Society. At the state tournament Gupta placed 13th in extemporaneous speaking, while Geoffrey Gresh, a first-year student from Lowell, Mass., took 13th place in impromptu speaking and 14th place in extemporaneous speaking. Competing in her first collegiate debate, senior Wendy Erdly of Turbotville, Pa., finished 17th in impromptu speaking, improving with each round of competition and finally finishing second in her group.

At Cornell, Gupta placed third in the public forum competition and was named best speaker among non-finalists. Gresh placed fourth in the best speaker category.

Team members will compete in a two-day “swing” tournament March 6-7 at Muskingum College, New Concord, Ohio, and Ohio State University, Columbus. They hope to qualify more people in more events for the national tournament.

“This is an excellent new initiative, made even more so by the fact that it has been totally led by the students,” Murphy says. “These competitions will allow our students to use the totality of their liberal arts education in an effort not only to compete against other schools, but also to develop their communication skills.”

Melissa Miller, a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University and the wife of Neil A. Englehart, assistant professor of government and law at Lafayette, coaches speakers in individual events.

With success like this in the team's first month, Murphy can hardly wait until next year, when the team will have a full season of competition.

“The effort will be even more exciting as we grow,” he says. “For next year we're looking not only to build on this individual success but to build a Lincoln-Douglas team to compete for the team championship. The success by our highly energetic and extremely talented charter members bodes well for Lafayette's future efforts on the forensics circuit.”

Murphy is hoping all interested Lafayette students, with our without debating experience, will contact him for information about the Forensics Society.

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