The IU debate program travelled 13 debate students to the American Debate Association Championship (ADA), hosted by the University of Nevada Las Vegas on the first weekend of March. At the time, reports of community coronavirus spread around the United States placed a cloud of uncertainty over the ADA invitational tournament and the end-of-the-year tournaments that soon followed. The ADA tournament for most of our students would be their last competition of the year. A tournament that would cap-off a season of work; researching, debating, and strategizing around one topic before the students moved on to next season’s preparation.
The program’s top team of Victoria Lincourt (senior) and Drew Bagan (junior), however sought to use the ADA as a warmup for the end-of-the-year National Debate Tournament (NDT). Lincourt and Bagan had qualified to the NDT as one of the top 78 teams in the nation a few weeks prior at a district qualification tournament held at Northwestern University. The duo’s qualification was the pinnacle achievement of their career and feather in the hat for the Indiana Debate program. The NDT was supposed to be held at James Madison University in Virginia March 26th – 30th.
While the ADA tournament was in full swing, with debaters deliberating over the fine details of National Space Policy in each of their six 2-hour long debates, a meeting amongst the senior leadership of the National Debate Tournament was convened to discuss the Covid-19 virus spread and its implications on University travel and the viability of hosting the National Debate Tournament. At the time, credible rumors had spread that Harvard was on the brink of establishing a national travel ban on all student group activities with limits on large-group gatherings. The prediction went that with Harvard's decision a critical mass of Universities would follow. While no official announcement by the NDT leadership would be released for more than a week, it became clear that the likelihood of a brick-and-mortar National Debate Tournament was likely an impossibility. As student related travel was shut down across the nation, including the NCAA march madness basketball, the NDT committee announced that hosting the nationwide 500-person tournament in Virginia was no longer viable.
Victoria Lincourt, the program’s President and only senior, competed in her last debate and delivered her last speech late on a Saturday night of early March in a room located in a desert town of Nevada without knowledge that this would be the premature end to a stellar career. To the readers of this article who are uninitiated to the culture of debate, our students spend an inordinate amount of time working on their craft. Victoria joined the program three years ago as a novice campus recruit. From the time she joined, she attended weekly meetings, attended weekend work sessions and spent a lot of time as a vocal leader in our “squad room,” located in O’Neill SPEA room 324, between her classes. She spent up to 20-40 hours a week working on debate, including: debate assignments, mentoring peers, onboarding students to the program, establishing research assignments for our meetings, and engaging in practice debate rounds and practice speeches.
All of this time that Victoria invested in doing work at-home in our squad room in Bloomington was certainly impressive for any student. Yet, the work had a purpose, to derive benefits directly tied to tournament travel and tournament success.
After three years of debate tournament travel, Victoria competed in 23 tournaments and accumulating a total of 178 rounds under the Hoosier banner. Before entering her last debate, with every individual debate round guaranteeing each participating student 20-minutes of dedicated speaking time, Lincourt had already logged a total of 59-hours of debate tournament speaking time.
While attending the NDT would have been a reward for the work Victoria brought to the program and the community, the loss of this one tournament is arguably not an end but is rather a new beginning. After already contributing 59 hours and 20 minutes of intellectual advocacy at tournaments, another 160 minutes of time at the NDT would have made little difference in the educational benefits and skills Victoria has already honed. As an advocate, a person with a strong moral compass, mixed with her compassion, drive, and knowledge, the program feels confident that her skills, her leadership and intellectual talents all but guarantee a person who will use her success at Indiana University as a means to raise the quality of the community and world around her.
While her career ended abruptly, the lights of Vegas pale in comparison to the enduring bright star that the debater, the intellectual and fierce advocate Lincourt will bring as she departs IU with a degree in hand and moves on to the future roads she chooses to travel.
The Hoosier Debate Team and its coaches, along with Indiana University, are indebted to Victoria and what she has brought to the program. Her legacy of mentorship, program and cultural development will be lasting. We thank you, knowing that saying it once is insufficient to highlight the benefits you brought to us.
From one forever Hoosier debate team member to a forever Hoosier Debater, thank you, again.