Debate team carries momentum to nationals

By Elizabeth zinchuk

Despite not finishing first over the course of two tournaments this weekend, the number one ranked debate team in the country managed to bring home some hardware.

The final two tournaments before the national championship were held back-to-back at Loyola University Chicago Friday through Sunday. The debate team placed fifth at the first tournament and second at the next.

The National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence’s top-ranked duo of Ben Campbell, a senior from Springfield, Mo. studying political science, and Josh Rivera, a senior from Chicago studying political science, have a round-record of 82-7.


Todd Graham, director of the debate team, said he hoped for two tournament victories, but thought the duo performed well.

“Because we’ve had such a strong season, we were hoping for a championship at one of the two tournaments,” Graham said. “While we didn’t do that, I still think a second and fifth place still are very good.”

However, Rivera and Campbell were named the I-70 Cup champions.

The I-70 Cup is awarded to the team with the best combined scores or rankings between the four tournaments at Loyola University Chicago, McKendree University, Washburn University and William Jewell College, Graham said.

He said the cup gets its name from the interstate near the four tournaments’ locations. He said the first of the four tournaments started early last semester’ with the last one during the weekend.

“It’s kind of a prestigious award in that it indicates you debated well for an entire season,” he said. “You can have some poor tournaments and the I-70 cup indicates you did better in the long run for a lot of tournaments.”

Graham said he has high expectations for the debate team, as SIU has a long history of championship wins. The I-70 cup gives the debate team momentum into nationals, he said.


Graham said he was very pleased with how Rivera and Campbell are debating but they still have work to do before the national championship.

“I think going into the national championship, they know what they have to do to improve, which is super important,” he said. “One of the reasons we came up to Loyola was to see how we are doing and where we stand against some of the better teams.”

Campbell said the tournaments this weekend were a steppingstone before his team reaches nationals.

“Any time we go to a tournament, we’re wanting to win it,” Campbell said. “It was unfortunate we lost these tournaments, but we walked away knowing what things we need to fix for nationals.”

The debate team will work to improve the organization of their arguments, speaking skills and stylistic approaches, Graham said.

“Some of our stylistic approaches the judges weren’t finding as persuasive as they did earlier this year so we’re going to do a lot of practice in the next three to four weeks,” Graham said.

Campbell said he and Josh spend up to 90 hours during each of the weeks prior to the national tournaments to research and prepare.

Usually a tournament will give debaters their topics 20 minutes prior to a round. With the NPTE, Campbell and Rivera will get their topics weeks in advance.

Rivera said the first national tournament is unique, but often requires more time since they know the research topics.

“It’s a lot of practicing, a lot of going over assignments and getting ready for the full spectrum of our strategy with our coaches,” Rivera said.

The debate team’s next competition is the NPTE, a double elimination, closed invite-only tournament, from March 15 to 18 at Northern Arizona University. The National Parliamentary Debate Association tournament, a single elimination, open invitation tournament, will also be at Northern Arizona University March 20 – 23.

Rivera and Mike Selck were the national champions of both tournaments last year.