I was a varsity debater at Bellarmine for my four years of college (1961-65) on a debate scholarship. While recently writing for my personal files about a singular experience that occurred during my time on the team, it occurred to me that the story might be of interest to other Bellarmine alums.
In January 1965, the Rt. Rev. Alfred F. Horrigan, then president of Bellarmine College, personally addressed members of the varsity debate team about our upcoming competition at the St. John Fisher College Debate Tournament in Rochester, N.Y., scheduled for Feb. 7 and 8. The competition would include 26 teams representing 24 colleges from six states and Canada. President Horrigan challenged the team to win this tournament, noting that a victory at the St. John Fischer tourney was very important to him as well as to Bellarmine.
Although President Horrigan had always been a staunch supporter of Bellarmine’s debate team and extremely proud of its successes, he had never previously approached the squad before a competition to express a personal desire for a Bellarmine victory. He did eventually explain his motive in urging an overall triumph at this particular tournament.
Apparently, President Horrigan had a close, but very competitive, friendship with Rev. Charles J. Lavery, C.S.B., Ph.D., then president of St. John Fisher College. That competition had probably resulted in Bellarmine’s invitation to the St. John Fisher meet, as well as to friendly wagering between the two presidents on whose debate team was better. But President Horrigan did not just want Bellarmine to have a better record in the competition than the host school; he wanted us to win his friend’s entire debate tournament.
The Bellarmine affirmative team of Jerry Lynch and Robert Lega, both freshmen, and the negative team of myself and Bill Dotson, a sophomore, posted a 10-2 record to win the overall championship trophy. Dotson and I further won the trophy for being the best overall negative team. We had lived up to President Horrigan’s expectations.
Our success pleased the president greatly, and he enthusiastically congratulated and thanked us and our coach, Rev. Joseph Miller, a Bellarmine faculty member. Neither we nor Coach Miller ever learned whether only bragging rights were on the line, or whether there was a side wager of some sort between the two presidents.
We didn’t really need President Horrigan’s encouragement to motivate us. By March 1965, Dotson and I had compiled a record of 32 wins and only 6 losses for the academic year, including a number of other first-place finishes. The team of Lynch, Lega and Larry Rapp, a senior, had achieved a strong record of 20 wins against 8 losses and were part of many of those tournament championships.
But we were certainly pleased and happy to win one for Bellarmine’s president.
Vince Aprile ’65