UO debaters bring home two national championships

As a debate team, Hank Fields and Matt Gander add up to more than the sum of their parts.

“Matt and I together make one brain,” Fields said.

And together, Fields and Gander brought home two national debate championships in the span of a week this spring.

First, they won the championship of the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence at the University of Denver, an invitational competition, beating out 63 other teams. The Oregon debaters defeated a team from Whitman College in the championship round. Last year, the duo lost the tournament in the final round.

They continued their winning ways the following weekend, when they won the National Parliamentary Debate Association national championship tournament, an open competition that attracted teams from more than 150 schools to Colorado College.

“I’m still pretty shocked by it,” Fields said. “It’s gratifying.”

In competition, two-member teams are given the topic on which they’ll debate about 20 minutes beforehand, and whether they’re arguing in favor of the question or against it. Debaters need to have broad knowledge of global affairs, politics and philosophy, and be able to think on their feet.

Fields, a graduate of Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, and Gander, who graduated from Sprague High School near Salem, competed against each other as high school debaters. They teamed up last year as juniors at the UO, and found their respective intellectual strengths worked well together in competition.

“The thing that made Hank and I a good team is we divided the world into our interests,” Gander said.

“We know so many complementary things,” Fields said.

Gander said Fields is more methodical and patient than he is.

“I’m more bombastic — most of my speeches are a ramble,” he said.

Fields is a senior in the Clark Honors College majoring in political science. Gander is a senior majoring in history and political science. Neither has made firm plans for life after graduation, though both are considering graduate school and both are interested in coaching debate.

Debate “is the most comprehensive educational experience you can get,” Fields said.
“In debate it’s fun, because you can push yourself as far as you want to go,” Fields said. “I’ve learned about things that I would never have learned about — even in college.”

The UO Forensics Program is “a really cool intellectual community,” he said. “It’s been really cool representing the University of Oregon.”

Fields and Gander are following in a tradition of strong performances in recent years by Oregon debaters. Teams from the UO won national championships in 2001 and 2009.

— Tim Christie