National Parliamentary Debate Association

An Early History of the NPDA

Reported by Prof. Emeritus Al Johnson, the Colorado College

with assistance from Prof. Steven Johnson, University of Alaska-Anchorage
and Dr. Robert Trapp, Willamette University

Parliamentary debate began in the Rocky Mountain Region in the Fall of 1991 with discussions between Major Gwendolyn Fayne, Director of Forensics at the U. S. Air Force Academy, and Al Johnson, Director of Forensics at The Colorado College. Al was concerned that the changes in CEDA had made it almost impossible for bright students with little, or no, experience in debate to compete. While Gwen had some of the same concerns, she liked parliamentary debate and was anxious to see it offered the region. Although some Western schools including the Air Force Academy, The Claremont Colleges, and Central Missouri State University had attended some APDA tournaments and some had attended Worlds, parliamentary debate was not offered at any tournaments in the Western United States. Colorado College and the Air Force Academy have always had a close relationship as the two schools are only twelve miles apart and Gwen and Al talked frequently on the phone about forensic concerns. When Al talked to her about his the lack of opportunity for inexperienced students, she suggested parliamentary debate might provide that opportunity.

Major Fayne agreed to offer a division of parliamentary debate at her November tournament and Al agreed to call some local schools and urge them to enter teams. Eighteen teams entered the division and to say it was loosely run would be an overstatement. The number of judges ranged from one to three in rounds and topics were made up just prior to a round. Although some coaches (apparently including Steve Johnson, then a graduate assistant at Colorado State University) were conned into judging, the majority of the critics were students who were entered only in individual events.

Two other tournaments offered parliamentary debate during the school year 1991-1992 with entries running around fifteen to twenty teams. Gwen and Al decided to offer a “Rocky Mountain Championship” in March of 1992, but also made it a last chance for NIET legs tournament in order to insure participation. Twenty-five teams entered and competed in six preliminary rounds plus elimination rounds beginning with quarter finals. A team from Regis won that first tournament.

At a coaches meeting at that tournament a loosely knit organization was formed and named The Western States Parliamentary Debate Association. Steven C. Combs of The Claremont Colleges was elected President; Gwendolyn Fayne was elected Executive Secretary and Editor of the Journal, and Al Johnson was elected Treasurer, even though the organization had no funds at that time. Steve Johnson, who was leaving Colorado State to become Director of Forensics at Creighton University in the Fall, agreed to work on a constitution.

At the end of the school year 1991-1992 the organization lost most of its leadership as Steve Combs left Claremont to work on his PhD and Gwen Fayne was transferred to Alabama. She did, however, publish the first Journal in the Fall of 1992 from her home in Montgomery, Alabama, and Steve Johnson completed a draft of the Constitution which called for Fall and Spring Championships to be held each year. The Fall Championship was scheduled in conjunction with the November Air Force Tournament and the Spring Championship was scheduled in conjunction with the Regis University Tournament in February of 1993.

During the school year 1992-1993 most Rocky Mountain tournaments offered a division of parliamentary debate and all were successful attracting fifteen to thirty-five teams. Al Johnson planned to attend the October tournament at the University of Puget Sound and he and Greg Young were asked to conduct a seminar on Parliamentary Debate. Greg had been Director of Forensics at Colorado State University the previous three years and during 1992-1993 he was replacing Steve Hunt as Director of Forensics at Lewis and Clark.

The seminar was well attended by students and coaches and all expressed a real interest in doing something in Parliamentary Debate. Brenda Marshall, Director of Forensics at Linfield College had a tournament coming up in just three weeks and she agreed to offer Parliamentary Debate. She expressed doubt that anyone would enter teams even though several coaches agreed to do so. She was pleasantly surprised to draw more than 30 teams and Parliamentary Debate began in the Pacific Northwest.

Al persuaded Tim Browning, the Tournament Director of Western States, to offer a single division at the February tournament in San Jose. The division had an excellent draw and Robert Trapp and Al conned a number of California judges into hearing rounds. Most were reluctant at first, but many asked to judge at least one more round. Some interest in Parliamentary Debate was thus generated in California.

At the coaches meeting at the Regis tournament, several changes occurred. The organization was renamed the National Parliamentary Debate Association and it was agreed to hold a single tournament the following Spring. This tournament was originally titled “National” but has since been changed to “Championship”. Steve Johnson was elected (not self appointed) President; Susan Epstein, Director of Forensics at the University of Southern Colorado, was elected Executive Secretary; Gwen Fayne was asked to continue as Editor of the Journal; and Al Johnson was re-elected as Treasurer. Although she was still living in Alabama, Gwen produced two more Journals before formally leaving NPDA.

During the school year 1993-1994 Steve Johnson and Al Johnson put together the first National Tournament which was held during March of 1994. The organization had a few members, but Steve used the AFA mailing list to attempt to draw more teams. Fifty-two teams from twenty-six schools attended that first tournament. Marcus Paroske and Tammy Schultz of Regis University defeated Andrea Roth and Rob Stone of the University of New Mexico in the final round with Andrea taking the honors as top speaker.

The schools attending in 1994 were Bethel College (Kansas); Black Hills State University; California State University at Northridge; Colorado State University; Concordia College (now Concordia University); Creighton University; Eastern New Mexico University; Front Range Community College; Hillsdale College; Metropolitan State College; Northern Arizona University; Oregon State University; Red Rocks Community College; Regis University; Rice University; The Claremont Colleges; The Colorado College; U. S. Air Force Academy; University of Colorado; University of LaVerne; University of Nebraska; University of New Mexico; University of Southern Colorado; University of Wyoming; Wichita State University; and Willamette University.

Gary Holbrook of Metropolitan State College attended as President of the Friends of the Irish Debate Series. Gary sponsored the Irish Debate Teams United States visit for eighteen years prior to stepping down in 1997. He suggested that the National Parliamentary Championship Tournament would be a logical place for an exhibition debate. The organization agreed and when Robert Trapp’s offer to host the 1995 tournament was accepted, Gary agreed to bring the Irish team to Salem. When Gary stepped down in the Spring of 1997, the NPDA agreed to act as sponsor of the Irish teams U.S. tour. The Irish National Team has been present at every tournament beginning with Willamette in 1995.

No one could have predicted the rapid growth of the National Parliamentary Debate Association with the Championship Tournament growing every year from the 52 teams in 1994 to more than two hundred at the present time with some teams being turned away. After CEDA was founded, it was several years before any tournament attracted enough teams to offer even quarterfinals.

Several people deserve credit for the established and growth of the organization. Parliamentary Debate would never have gotten started if it had not been for the knowledge and determination of Gwendolyn Fayne. Major Fayne not only offered the event at her tournament but was instrumental in co-hosting that first “Championship Tournament” in the Spring of 1992. Gwen gave the organization some credibility by publishing three Journals. Sadly, her participation was cut short by her transfer from the Air Force Academy.

Al Johnson deserves credit for having the experience and the contacts to not only persuade local tournaments in the Rocky Mountain Region to offer divisions of Parliamentary Debate and later to do the same in the Pacific Northwest. Without these efforts Parliamentary might never had lasted beyond that first Air Force Tournament in 1991.

Steve Johnson should be give lots of kudos for “formalizing” the organization. First as a volunteer and later as President, Steve was tireless in his efforts to give WSPDA and then NPDA formal organization and credibility. The first “Championship Tournament” in 1994 might never have occurred without Steve’s input and certainly would not have been nearly as successful. After his two year term Steve turned a solid and growing organization over to the next President, Robert Trapp.

Robert Trapp was exactly the right person to make the NPDA into a large, well run, national organization. His quiet demeanor and his outstanding ability were just what was needed. He was willing to make decisions to push the organization forward, even if some might be unpopular. When some officers failed in their responsibility, he quietly tried to solve the problem without trying to lay any blame.

Certainly, many other people have made significant contributions by bringing Parliamentary Debate to their area and helping it grow. The hosts of the Championship Tournament have all done an outstanding job and made the experience a professional and pleasant one. If the NPDA continues to grow and be successful, it is because the present officers have inherited a solid organization.

History originally published: June 30, 1999