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UR Duo Argue Their Way to the Top

It's the first time in 25 years the school has qualified.

Shah, a political science major, and Marcus, a double major in economics and philosophy, have been practicing all year to debate whether the United States should ratify one or more of five specific international resolutions — such as the Kyoto Global Climate Change Treaty or the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

In Atlanta, the pair will debate the issue eight times against different teams. Then the top 24 teams out of 64 will advance to seeded elimination rounds, NCAA-style. The final round will be broadcast on C-SPAN.

Debaters are told what side they'll be arguing, affirmative or negative, only 10 minutes before the two-hour round begins. Three judges decide who wins.

Competitive debate is nothing like arguing with the guy one barstool over, explains Kevin Kuswa, a UR professor who coaches the debate team. While debaters must be persuasive public speakers, the key to winning is research — lots of it. Those on the varsity team arrive at school two weeks before classes begin and spend about 10 hours per day learning about the big question to be argued that season.

During the school year, Kuswa says, debaters practice 10 to 20 hours per week and often leave for tournaments for four days at a time.

And the work never ends. A few team members who didn't qualify to compete are going to Atlanta to help with some last-minute research, Shah says, because recent events like Iraq, North Korea and terrorism will probably come up in the debates.

Are the debaters nervous? You bet. But despite all the stress and long hours of preparation, "we have a lot of fun too," Kuswa says. The thrill of competition, along with the advantage of gaining immense knowledge of current events, make it all worth it, says Shah. "I've just found myself never able to quit." — M.S.S.

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