When the Covenant College debate club headed to Washington, D.C., last month for its first chance to spar with other college-level intellectuals, the students didn't know what to expect.
After all, the club was just a few months old, and, unlike the other three teams in the competition, it didn't have a professional coach.
So it shocked everyone when three Covenant students out of 33 debaters qualified for the national competition of the National Forensic Association at Missouri State University this April. And Covenant students Zach Robbins and Blake Bozarth were named the first and second place speakers, respectively, at the event, officials said.
"You want to say you are surprised, but I was confident our students would stack up well," said Brad Voyles, dean of students at Covenant College on Lookout Mountain in Dade County, Ga. "But it definitely exceeded our expectations."
Since August, when Covenant started its first debate club, more than 20 students have become involved, and around 10 students have chosen to compete, said Mr. Bozarth, a 20-year-old economics major at Covenant who is founder and president of the club.
Hannah Vanbiber, a sophomore majoring in English, said she was looking for a way to debate once she entered college, and was disappointed that Covenant didn't have forensic program until now.
"I just love having this debate team at Covenant because we have this focus on communication, and we have a good pre-law program; but we never really had debate so I am really excited to see it starting off," she said.
As a home-school student in Kentucky, Mr. Bozarth said he was heavily involved in debate growing up.
When he came to Covenant he said he wanted a break from the verbal jousting, but soon began to miss it.
"I enjoy it because it keeps me sharp," said Mr. Bozarth, who plans to go to law school after graduation.
When he was required to work on a project for school last summer, beginning a debate club seemed a natural fit, he said.
To prepare for the coming national competition, Mr. Bozarth said students are studying up on Cuban-American relations to debate issues such as the trade embargo and immigration policy.
As the club grows, he said the school may hire a professional coach.
Ms. Vanbiber, who competed in Washington, D.C., said their recent success has gotten lots of attention.
"I really hope the team will grow and lots of people are interested, especially freshman," she said.