Debate team wins third national title in a row

By Jessica Brown, @BrownJessicaJ

The SIU debate team made history during the weekend in Liberty, Mo.

The team of Joshua Rivera and Zach Schneider placed first at the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence at William Jewell College, marking the third straight year they have returned with a national title. Rivera was named top speaker of the tournament for the second time. 

Rivera, a senior from Chicago studying economics and political science, and Schneider, a senior from Great Mill, Md., studying computer science, have won other national tournaments as partners.


The NPTE is an elite championship that only invites the top teams in the country, said Todd Graham, director of debate. The SIU debate team competed against 68 other teams in the tournament.

But the team’s weekend was not without adversity.

There was an additional national championship in which the team earned second place two days before their victory at NPTE. The debate, which was not invite-only, took place at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

“It was disappointing to get that close and not be able to pull it off, but at the same time, it’s debate,” Schneider said. “Wins happen, and losses also happen.”

Coming in second place helped fuel their drive for the following competition, Graham said.

“That’s probably why we won the next tournament,” he said. “We looked at the next debate as a challenge. We did what we had to do to get right back on the horse.”

Using the two days in between tournaments to improve, the team was determined to come out on top.


“It was always kind of a goal in the beginning of the season, to set a record in the university that no one has done before,” Graham said.

SIU became the first university to win three straight championships at the 21-year-old event. 

In debate, an excellent sense of preparation is key. 

“We spent our entire spring break in the office for about 12 hours each day doing research for the kind of topics that we knew were going to be relevant,” said Ben Reid, an assistant coach.

For NPTE, Rivera and Schneider had to complete nearly 30 different research assignments for 15 topics. 

The topics often dealt with major foreign policy or policies the United States should implement domestically, Reid said.

The final topic of debate was whether or not establishing protective zones for certain types of marine life would be beneficial. The team debated against implementing the policy, incorporating points of law, oil contracts, economy, politics and international ramifications.

Michael Selck, an assistant coach, said it is vital to take all aspects into consideration when coming up with an argument.

“You cannot win these types of debates by being narrow-minded,” he said. “You have to know a ton about the world.”

The duo received a national championship trophy with their names engraved alongside those who have previously won.

Though the debate season is coming to a permanent close for seniors Rivera and Schneider, they said all they have learned through debate will continue to follow them into their professional lives.

“The thing about debate is it is so transformative for people no matter what they want to do in life,” said Rivera, who won his third straight title. “I’m now looking forward to transferring what I’ve learned and applying it to the world of public policy.”

Schneider said he is planning on transitioning into a role as an assistant coach on the debate team at SIU.

The sense of camaraderie between team members remains the largest takeaway, however.

“This team is truly family in ways more than one,” Rivera said. “The people you’re with in that final round… that’s what really matters.”

Jessica Brown can be reached at [email protected].