, Derry, New Hampshire


May 22, 2014

Column: Pinkerton debaters win school's first championship

I suppose we've become a little used to Pinkerton Academy winning state championships. Our school has become the state's juggernaut with an enrollment of over 3,000 students. So many times we have been crowned the best in football, baseball, lacrosse, basketball and sundry other sports.

Go back 120 years to 1894 and you'd find things very different. Pinkerton was then a school of only 77 students. The school spent zero dollars on sports. Anyone who wanted to play football or baseball had to supply their own uniform and the coaches were unpaid volunteers. The school did however pride itself on its academic prowess. Many of the academy's graduates had met with success at the Ivy League schools and in professional careers. The only extracurricular contest that the school's trustees did support was debating.

In 1886, the students began a debating society named the Philomanthean Society. Its name is from the Greek meaning "Love of things learned." Most debates were between fellow members of the society at monthly meetings. Later the students began to have debating contests between the classes such as seniors vs. sophomores. Only rarely would the academy challenge or be challenged to debate against another school.

In January 1894, the academy received a debate challenge from Manchester High School. The Queen City school's debating team was considered the best in the state and had easily beaten every other school it had met in verbal warfare. If Pinkerton Academy's debaters could beat Manchester's it would be recognized as the new state champion.

This contest took place at 8 p.m. on the evening of Jan. 18, 1894. By mutual agreement the contest was to be held at the academy's chapel on the second floor of the brick Romanesque Pinkerton Building. Admission to the event was 25 cents. An hour before the debate the chapel was filled to capacity with many spectators forced to stand in the rear of the chapel, in nearby classrooms, or in the corridor. A special train had brought 200 from Manchester; these city folk were forced to walk the long mile from the Broadway depot to the academy's campus.

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