Debate team reflects on successes

By Matt Daray

There’s no debate on which college campus can argue its case the best.

The university’s debate team recently won two national titles, placing in both the March 20 National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence and the March 26 National Parliamentary Debate Association National Tournament. The dual success of the debate team makes SIU one of six colleges to ever win both titles in the same year.

This is the sixth consecutive year the team has placed in the top four at nationals, but team members said several of the year’s competitions helped them prepare for their final victory.


Todd Graham, director of speech communication and team coach, said he was pleased to see the team do so well in both competitions.

“It’s quite an honor. We had a terrific year,” he said. “We were obviously hoping to win a national championship.”

Graham said the debate team last won a national championship in 2008. While the team was marked as the top contender going into nationals, it doesn’t always mean they will win, he said. Nationals can be similar to college sports in that lower-ranked teams sometimes upset their top-ranked opponents, so winning is never guaranteed, he said.

The team was inspired to preform well after they witnessed two undefeated teams lose in the last competition before nationals, he said.

“Both teams lost in (the) quarter finals, and I think that was sort of our wake-up call that we have to be really, really sharp and make sure we know what our arguments are and (that) our research is good,” he said.

Graham said he is thrilled the team won because of the effort they put into nationals preparation.

“I think they’ll probably take away from it that, the fact that, in this case, the hard work paid off and for this one year in particular, I don’t think there’s any doubt that the best team won,” he said.


Graham said the team dedicated many hours to prepare for nationals, including practicing 12 to 14 hours a day over spring break.

Members of the team also excited to see their efforts didn’t go to waste.

Ben Campbell, a junior from Springfield, Mo., studying political science, said nationals was a great experience for him and his team.

“It’s a really, really exciting experience, especially given the amounts of work that all of us have put in since August,” he said.

Campbell said debate topics ranged from the U.S. changing its policy toward Latin America, nano-technology and the country increasing its missile defense capability. He said one competition only allowed teams half an hour to research a topic and debate it, instead of being able to research ahead of time.

Joshua Rivera, a sophomore from Chicago studying political science, said winning has been very exciting for him and his team. All the extra practice was worth it, he said. Rivera said it was rewarding to win after being ranked as one of the top teams and following through on that with a win.

Learning experiences throughout the year helped the team in its successful run, he said.

“You’ve got to learn how to adapt to judges, the people who are watching you and also figuring out other teams,” he said.

Rivera said Whitman College’s debate team was one SIU needed to prepare for, as it was the only team to beat SIU in a round at the March 20 debate. However, the team gathered afterward to determine which team speakers were better at certain topics and planned how to counter them. After that, Rivera said his team beat Whitman every match.

While the debate team won this year, he said the team has no intention of slowing down.

“Our next year’s goals are the same as we have every year, which is to do well in all the tournaments we go to, continually do well and get better at nationals,” he said.