As I was preparing my report on "The National Debate Tournament in the
1970's,"/1/ it occurred to me that something important was missing.
The NDT's records yielded their facts, which I duly tabulated, but more
and more I came to feel that there were debaters, teams, institutions
and coaches who were not listed but perhaps should have been. But for
the luck of the draw, a debater's untimely illness, or some other factor,
the results that emerged from my study might have been different. Without
detracting from anyone's real achievement in the NDT, I could remember
distinctly superior teams and individuals who, for whatever reason,
failed to demonstrate their superiority in that final championship meet.
led rather naturally to a series of questions, "Who was the best debater
of the past decade? The best team? Considering everything, during that
ten year history, out of all those participants, tournaments, and seasons,
who was really Number One?" If my second thoughts about the results
of the NDT were correct, then surely a different picture would emerge
from a survey of a wider data base than the NDT archives. At this point,
I undertook another study to provide plausible responses to these inquiries.
is not possible to arrive at a universally acceptable answer to the
question of who is 'best' in debate, just as it is impossible for everyone
to agree on the 'best' movies, or boxer, or baseball team over a span
of time. Yet simply because such matters are questions of personal judgment,
unresolvable by a simple retreat to statistics or facts, makes them
no less fascinating or worthy of inquiry. Indeed, the activity itself
rests first and foremost upon just such highly individualistic opinions.
Therefore, in the
spring of 1980, I designed a simple survey of the opinions of forty
debate coaches and/or participants who were significantly active in
debate throughout the decade; thirty responded to my questionnaire.
In a sense, the sample is representative of the field, since there is
a good dispersal of the respondents by geography, by institutional affiliation,
by age, and even by coaching philosophies. However, I recognize the
obvious limits inherent in any sample such as this. Of course, this
is not, strictly speaking, a scientific sample. But the forty survivors
whom I identified are surely competent to speak with considerable authority
on these matters. The result, I feel, whether totally scientific or
not, is both interesting and worthwhile. It provides an answer, if not
the answer, to my questions. As was once said of the Kinsey Report when
it first came out, "It may not be the most scientific sex survey, but
at the moment, it contains the only statistics in town on the subject."
A list of twenty-five
debaters who had either been first or second speaker at the NDT or accumulated
numerous speaker awards during their competitive years was provided.
The respondents were then asked "Rank you top ten (1, 2, 3, etc.). You
may rank your own debater(s), and if you feel strongly that a deserving
debater has been left off use the appropriate blank provided. Rank in
order, your top ten debaters only." The results were rather clear-cut.
The points next to the names reflect ten points for being ranked first,
nine for second, etc. The number in parenthesis is the total number
of ballots in which the person was in fact ranked.