GU Debate Reunion Rekindles Memories of Program's History

Seniors Leah Moczulski and Paul Kanellopoulos

September 20, 2011

(Above) Gonzaga's top debate team of seniors Leah Moczulski and Paul Kanellopoulos, both from Houston, is considered among the nation's best. 

By Tara Schmidt
Class of 2012

SPOKANE, Wash. — Gonzaga University debaters past and present love few things more than a good argument. Yet there's one issue upon which they all agree: Nothing prepares a person for life's challenges, is more mentally and physically grueling, or unites a group of sharp-minded youth quite like competing in intercollegiate debate.

"You have to be able to think critically on your feet, and give an articulate argument while doing so," said Leah Moczulski at Gonzaga's first all-years debate reunion Sept. 10 in the McCarthey Athletic Center's Herak Room. Moczulski and fellow senior Paul Kanellopoulos comprise Gonzaga's top debate team, considered among the nation's best. They will compete Sept. 28-29 in the prestigious "Run for the Roses" tournament at University of Kentucky, Lexington. Gonzaga was among only nine schools nationwide invited.

"You develop skill sets that would not improve otherwise," said Ben Stuckart ('95), executive director of the nonprofit Communities in Schools of Spokane County. Stuckart practices his oratorical and research skills frequently in his current bid for elective office with the City of Spokane.

Among the sharpest arrows in every good debater's quiver is the ability to speak quickly, very quickly. Moczulski estimates the average debater articulates 350-400 words per minute, and reads 30-40 scholarly essays per week. That's about a semester's worth of schoolwork in seven days. No wonder, then, that graduation marked the end of an incredibly rigorous lifestyle for most former debaters.

Gonzaga has supported intercollegiate debate for more than 100 years, and earned one national championship in 1989 when David Hanson and Bill DeForrest defeated a team from Southern Illinois University (alma mater of current GU debate Coach Glen Frappier).

Al McKimmey ('49), the most seasoned of all debaters at the event, debated when Gonzaga first competed in the National Debate Tournament — 1947 — the year former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Thomas S. Foley became Gonzaga's first national debate tournament qualifier.

Today, McKimmey maintains his wit and poise, especially speaking in public. Ad-libbing, he addressed the debate alumni like he was speaking to his family.

"I hope this is the first of many reunions to come," he said, beaming.