Ethics Bowl team heading to Nationals

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The team members pose with their award after placing second overall in the California Regional Ethics Bowl.
Courtesy: Rico Vitz

This year’s five-member Ethics Bowl team made APU history when they qualified for the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl nationals at the California Regionals last weekend, securing a triumphant victory for a team that formed just two years ago. They placed second overall and will be heading to Jacksonville, Florida for a chance at the national title in February.

The 2013 California Regionals were hosted at the National Hispanic University in San Jose, Calif. on Saturday, Dec. 7 and saw 18 teams from 13 schools such as Cal Poly Pomona, UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara.

Each team competed in three morning rounds; the top four teams moved on to the regional semi-finals that afternoon.

The APU team defeated all three of their morning opponents: Santa Clara University (3-0), CSU San Jose (2-1) and Carleton College (2-0-1).

“It was a really long day with stiff competition, and we didn’t expect to go up against some of the more experienced teams that we did,” junior political science and philosophy double major Justin Manassee said. “We went in there, handled it pretty well, and they were all really close matches. That was really stressful to go through; sometimes we thought oh yeah we definitely pulled ahead in points, but the judges pulled it really close.”

During each round, each team had 10 minutes to present a case before hearing and responding to challenges from the opposing team and answering questions from the judges.

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Junior philosophy major Max Vasquez debates whether the U.S. should allow people to be financially compensated for donating bone marrow.
Courtesy: Rico Vitz

The APU team moved to the regional semi-finals in the afternoon, defeating NHU 3-0, and then on to the regional finals right afterward. Because the top three schools go on to nationals, when the APU team realized they had made it to the regional finals, they knew they were heading to Florida.

“I had to step out of the room and regain my composure before we continued into the final round, because I was so excited. … The trophy was sitting in the room with us the whole time; it’s so hard not to just stare at it and become mesmerized,” Manassee said. “To finally achieve our goal, groundbreaking victory first for APU, and we had to just sit there calmly and maintain ourselves — that was definitely the most difficult thing.”

Immediately after the semi-final match against NHU, the APU team faced off against San Jose once again for the regional finals. Although they beat the San Jose team in the morning round, they lost 3-0 to them in the finals, ultimately placing second in the California Regionals.

APU’s first Ethics Bowl team formed in fall 2011 during associate philosophy professor Rico Vitz’s first semester at APU. Every fall he offers a PHIL 495 Seminar in Philosophy class with the goal of preparing the students for the Ethics Bowl competition.

“To have gotten the thing off the ground and gotten to this point is really, really satisfying,” he said.

Vitz said it was “nerve wracking” to watch the team members compete in such tight rounds, but that they got better with each one.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” he said about nabbing a spot in nationals. “I wish the previous two teams could get a little piece of this and come with us too.”

The team members spent all semester preparing for the Ethics Bowl regionals by reading social and political theory and poring over the 12 pre-selected cases, which were announced around Labor Day. Team members were assigned to know select cases thoroughly.

Sophomore English and philosophy double major Alain Leon did not participate at all during the morning rounds, since the cases he had heavily prepared for were never called. But during the semi-final round against NHU, he spoke during his team’s case about whether the Boston Marathon bomber should be buried in the U.S., and during a critique of NHU’s case about whether pet owners should eat meat.

“I was kind of nervous because I started speaking in the most important round,” Leon said. “I didn’t want to mess anything up.”

All cases are from recent news and events. For example, among the list of cases for the California Regionals was one called “Is that blood on your shirt?” which addressed the Bangladeshi factory building collapses this year; another case, called “Baby S,” addressed the pregnant surrogate mother who refused to get an abortion at the request of the biological parents.

Vitz said he thinks it is particularly important for APU to compete in the Ethics Bowl because there are no other Christian Council of Colleges & Universities schools represented in the bowl.

“Christians in Christian schools kind of huddle together and [don’t] engage in certain kinds of discourse … the kind of cases that we get aren’t ones [with] clean answers,” he said. “It’s important for Christians to have a presence doing that.”

The team members have winter break to relax before they start again in January when the list of cases for the national bowl comes out. They will have approximately eight weeks to prepare before jetting off to Florida for the national competition on Feb. 27, 2014.

“I’m so excited. I’ve been telling everyone who will listen,” Menassee said. “It’s so surreal to realize you’ve made APU history … it’s hard to contain yourself.”