The university debate team gained worldly experience in Germany, and team members say the knowledge will be used to succeed in their next competition in the United States.
University debate, which consists of two separate teams, competed at the World Universities Debating Championships in Berlin during winter break and will contend this weekend at the San Diego Sunset Cliffs Classic. Ben Campbell, a senior from Springfield, Mo., studying political science, said the team’s Germany debates were a valuable lesson in both debate and world citizenship.
“I talked to at least four competitors that had to lie about why they were going to Berlin because their government saw debate as a threat to their power,” Campbell said. “To these individuals, debate was a way to learn things about the world that their government would otherwise not like them to.”
The team defeated opponents from the United Kingdom, Japan, Turkey, China, Germany, Bosnia- Herzegovina and Bangladesh during the competition, he said.
“This trip really allowed me to realize that what I’ve been doing for the last seven years of my life matters,” Campbell said.
Todd Graham, debate team director, said the team has won all but one tournament this season.
“We’ve really been a tremendous success,” Graham said. “It’s remarkable.” Debate also set a school record this year when both teams reached the final round of the Colorado Springs, Colo., Mile High Swing
competition’s final round. Graham said the team’s strong
research ability and argument flexibility allows the team to enter the Sunset Cliffs Classic, the last tournament prior to the national competition with high spirits.
Josh Rivera, a sophomore from Chicago studying political science, said the team’s weekly practice hours, which can often run up to 14 hours per week, have contributed to their success. Practice includes
mock debates and research and data collection to support different topics, he said.
Topics the team has argued for and against this year include the Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, gun control, Greece’s departure from the eurozone, congressional filibuster reform, the Defense of Marriage Act and Department of Education reforms.
Graham said this research and technique diversity makes his team stand out.
“We’ve got a lot of versatility in the arguments we use, plus a wide variety in our knowledge base,” Graham said. “I’ve got debaters well-versed in political science and economics as well as a few who are more philosophical and can take a position on bigger, broader issues.”
The team’s workload has also contributed to their success, he said. “We travel to national circuit tournaments all year. As a result, our
very first tournament at William Jewell College was nationals preparation,” Campbell said. “We very much see every tournament that way. During Spring Break, the debaters will be in the debate office preparing for nationals by doing research and practice rounds.”
Mike Selck, a senior from Blue Springs, Mo., studying speech communication, said one of his favorite topics was from the Mile High tournament, where teams debated civil rights issues such as marriage equality.
“It’s hard to approach an issue like that from both sides, to be able to be for or against it,” Selck said. “It’s challenging, but we pride ourselves on the ability to understand every side of the issue at hand.”
Selck said the coaching staff’s work with the team has been the highlight of his college career.
“They’ve helped us have one of most successful years in school
history, and one of the best I’ve ever had personally,” he said.
The team will take a month break from competitions after the Sunset Cliffs Classic to research the national competition and give the debators a small break from the difficult circuit schedule, Graham said.
“It’s good for them to have a break,” he said. “We don’t really need the practice debates at that point, so it’s time to just research.”
Rivera said he’s excited for the Sunset Cliffs tournament and expects a challenge from competitors.
“You will see some really close debates amongst the teams who have consistently shown that they have worked hard throughout the year,” he said. “Every team that finds that they are ranked in the top 50 deserves their spot, and that leaves a lot of room for tough competition.”
No matter the outcome at Sunset Cliffs, Graham said the team knows its ultimate goal.
“That’s my goal every year, to bring back a national championship,” Graham said. “I’m always looking toward the future.”