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Talking Saints Compete in Japan Virtually

Thursday, August 20, 2020

HELENA – The Carroll College Talking Saints opened their virtual year in forensics by winning three awards in an international tournament in Japan on August 14-16. Senior Josh Mansfield from Pocatello, Idaho, and Hellie Badaruddin a sophomore from Missoula, reached the championship round, narrowly losing to the University of Melbourne. Both won speaker awards, with Badaruddin 9th and Mansfield 4th.

The field of teams included teams from throughout East Asia including South Korea, Hong Kong, Australia and host Japan.

With a 15-hour time difference, Carroll started debating on Friday night at 6 p.m. and continued until 7 a.m. Saturday. Then wash, rinse, repeat for Saturday night. The Feminism Open was hosted by Japanese universities and all entry fees were donated to non-profits fighting to increase rights of women in Asia.

The Talking Saints competed through the night on Friday and Saturday, on their laptops from Mansfield’s living room. Many team members stayed up to cheer their teammates online.

“It was a lot of fun and an incredible learning experience to debate styles that are so different from our own,” said Mansfield. “Virtual debate made it feel like a fun Saturday night hanging out with Hellie and felt a lot less stressful.”

The Saints had no idea what to expect. COVID has closed down debate travel, but online opportunities are exploding around the world.

“I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” said Badaruddin. “One of my biggest concerns was that they wouldn’t be able to understand our American accents. But it definitely went better than I expected. All of the topics we debated were really interesting, and the judging was easily some of the best we’ve ever had. I think what really made it a great experience was that we were really well matched. The level of competition was high throughout the tournament, and we never saw a team that we thought was significantly worse than us or one that had obviously beat us.”

Despite the virtual setting, Josh and Hellie made friends with their Asian opponents.

“It was relaxed enough that we were able to make friends with some of the other teams and we actually contacted Kelly and Henry from Korea and are hoping to do some virtual practices with them this season,” said Badaruddin. “Despite never actually meeting them, we still felt that we made friends and built relationships. Overall, it was totally worth the amount of sleep I missed and I can’t wait to do it again.”

The virtual outing was an experiment in a year where nothing is going to be normal.

“Forensics, like college sports, has been disrupted and turned upside down by COVID,” said coach Brent Northup, starting year 32. “Students are stressed on so many levels, but we’re setting out to tailor the year to try to brighten their spirits. We especially want make the year as special for our wonderful first-year students as we can. The high school class of 2020 drew the virtual short straw this millennium. We owe ’em.”

Towards that end, the Talking Saints are thinking outside the box – and the country.

“International debate is one possibility, and we are working with a local grade school teacher – a former Talking Saint – to see if we can perform some essays written by those young people to celebrate young writers during their tough year,” said Northup. “We’re also exploring a YouTube show, perhaps “Bedtime Stories with the Talking Saints,” for local kids. It feels like a year to put exploration and service above competition. We Zoomed over to Japan to explore possibilities and make new friends, not to win. So, we were surprised – stunned, really – that we did so well. But we’re OK with that, too. Going to bed at dawn was my only complaint.”