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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI debate team talks their way into the
National Tournament

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 17, 2000 -- For the majority of Americans, public speaking is their number one fear. For members of the University of Rhode Island's debate team, public speaking is what they do for fun. The debaters are quite good at it, too. The team recently completed one of their most successful seasons ever.

For the first time, URI advanced to the National Tournament, thanks to the cumulative achievements of three members of the URI team: Neil Alpert, a communications major from Port Washington, N.Y.; Jaime Bourassa, a management major from Sterling, Mass.; and William Massey III, a communications major from Rumford, R.I. Each placed respectably.

"This is very impressive, considering it was everyone's first time. There were 88 schools at the tournament and most of the competitors who participate in the tournament have three to four years of experience," said John Devine, director of the Debate Team.

Alpert, who is ranked the number one college orator in the state, also earned a spot in the elite 127th Interstate Oratory Competition. The competition is the oldest collegiate competition in America and only invites the top two oratory speakers in each state. Alpert participated in the persuasive speaking section of the competition, presenting a speech on the World Trade Organization and why it is problematic for the world.

The debate team is part of a long tradition at URI that dates back to 1903 when URI hosted debates on the quadrangle with other local colleges. Since then, the format in which the team competes has become much more structured, but the same spirit of simply proving your point continues.

Today, the team is part of the National Forensics League, a league which includes such competitors as Boston University, Cornell, Northeastern, and Harvard, among others. The URI team hosts a tournament in the fall and travels across the country to compete in tournaments hosted by league schools.

One debate takes months of preparation and research. This year's topic, "The federal government should significantly increase restrictions on the use, sale, and development of genetically modified organisms," allowed for debates on a variety of subjects including genetically modified crops, gene therapy processes, oversight regulations, and the spread of genetic pollution.

Beyond all the research and preparation, sometimes a debate just comes down to quick-thinking, according to Alpert.

"Basically it's how fast you can think on your feet and analyze the opponent's position. The best debaters don't actually even need evidence. They just need to be able to analyze a position and have a rapid response," said Alpert.

What the team has taken away from this season goes beyond medals and accomplishments. Members have forged strong friendships, gained invaluable communication skills, and enriched their college experience.

"One of the nice things about being on the debate team is that it encompasses every part of the college experience from English and communication skills to how to do research to the social aspect," said Alpert.

"We have discovered the very basic formula of success, great teammates and great leadership. We all worked very well together and just seemed to gel this year."


For Information: John Devine, 401-874-4739,
Jan Sawyer, 401-874-2116,
Jennifer Smith, 401-874-2116


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