LRU News

LR Debate brings home first national championship – Local attorney revives long-dormant team

Thu May 29 2014

HICKORY, N.C. — One and one—one season of competition and one national championship—that’s Lenoir-Rhyne’s record following the Bears’ Debate Team’s first year of competition in nearly a quarter century.

LR Debate Coach Cade Hamilton has been there before. The first time was in 2011 when Kansas State University took the title with Hamilton serving as assistant coach. And then, because of one man with a vision, Hamilton was on his way to Hickory to build a championship program from scratch.

That man’s name is Charlie Dixon.

Having spent his career as a prominent Hickory attorney, Dixon, 87, clearly understands value of public discourse, which is why, on Nov. 29, 2010, he agreed to fund the rebirth of Lenoir-Rhyne’s debate team.

“Debate teaches you to clarify the issue and to identify the pros and cons of any argument—it’s certainly useful in the legal field, but it’s vital in other fields too,” he said. “The ability to think on your feet and not panic is such a valuable skill in your life—whether you’re addressing a city council, a church group or a business meeting—I felt that LR University really ought to have a debate team again.”

It took some time to find the right coach, but then they zeroed in on Hamilton and brought him to LR in the fall of 2012. For a year he taught classes while recruiting and training his team—the university’s first in 23 years.

In the fall of 2013 Hamilton took his team on the road and they started winning. The Bears won first place in their first tournament. And 14 of the debaters took home personal awards. At a tournament held at Middle Tennessee University LR took third place overall. The accolades continued to pile up all year and Hamilton ran out of space in the team’s first trophy case—then his team filled a second one.

In March, Hamilton took his top debate team to the 32nd Annual Novice National Championship Forensic Tournament hosted by Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois. The team of Rebecca Payne and Jeffrey Fisher outshined the competition to become this year’s Parliamentary Debate National Champions.

Payne, Fisher and their teammates spent a season experiencing the kind of solidarity and team spirit that makes Dixon’s eyes light up 65 years after he last hit the road for his season with the Tar Heels’ debate team at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“I think it’s a good thing for young people and college students to have that opportunity, to take pride in representing their school and their team,” he said. “It’s that tension and exhilaration of being in debates and the joy of developing the team camaraderie that makes it all worthwhile.”


Dixon went to N.C. State with electrical engineering ambitions, but it didn’t take long for him to realize that his strengths were in the liberal arts. He joined the army for two years. He trained as an infantryman, but after basic training, the young recruit was assigned to Yale where he studied the Japanese language. From there it was on to occupied Japan where Dixon served in Army Intelligence for a year until 1947.

Once he was back in the states Dixon enrolled in UNC-Chapel Hill. While there he participated in the school’s public speaking organizations and intramural debate team. His team won the campus tournament and joined the Tar Heels’ collegiate debate team on the road. They competed in tournaments from Florida to Georgetown where they took on the day’s elite from the Ivy League.

Dixon graduated from UNC in 1949 and went on to Harvard Law School where he graduated in 1952. Then he came to Hickory to practice law. Early on Dixon was a trial lawyer, but for most of his legal career he specialized in estate planning, business and corporate law and health care law.

Dixon has long been convinced of Lenoir-Rhyne’s value for the Hickory area, which is why he has served on the school’s board of trustees and helped teach a negotiation course to LR’s master’s-level business students. And it’s why he was determined to make it possible for Lenoir-Rhyne students to live the kind of experience that make his own college days such a pleasure to reflect on.

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