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March 12, 2012
By Claudene Wharton
While Wolf Pack fans were rooting for the men's basketball team to earn its way into the NCAA tournament this weekend, one Nevada team had already clinched a national championship appearance. The University of Nevada, Reno debate duo of Jonathan McGuire and Somersett Bassett has been seeded number 19 in the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence, and will leave for the tournament next Friday.
Akin to the NCAA basketball tournament, the tournament is an invitational featuring only the top 64 collegiate parliamentary debate duos in the nation. It takes place March 17-19, just a few days before the other major national tournament, the National Parliamentary Debate Association's Championship Tournament, beginning March 22. Both tournaments will be held at Western Washington University and are the culmination of a marathon debate season for collegiate parliamentary debaters, running from September through March. While the first is by invitation only to the top 64 duos, the second tournament is open to all collegiate parliamentary debaters, usually drawing 150 to 300 duos.
McGuire and Bassett will compete in both national tournaments, and six of their teammates will be joining them to compete in the second, open tournament. The team has a proud tradition dating back to the 1940s, according to Debate Coach Phil Sharp, who rattled off a list of state and national leaders who have been on the team, such as former Nevada Governor and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan and former U.S. Rep. Jim Santini.
Last March, Max Alderman, who graduated in December, took home the Top Individual Speaker award at the open national tournament and teamed up with McGuire to take fifth in the nation as a team in that tournament. Three years ago, Alderman and teammate David Pena took first place as a debate duo in both national tournaments.
But, such success doesn't come easily. If anyone thinks debaters don't practice hard like basketball players do, think again. The 12 members of the Nevada debate team "are on lock-in," according to Coach Sharp, who has set practice for the team for 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. today, and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The team will be spending their weekend at the University's Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center and Joe Crowley Student Union, conducting research on a variety of topics and brushing up to compete against the best collegiate debaters in the country.
"We've got a lot of work to do, and there's less distraction here," said Somerset, a junior majoring in history. "But, we don't mind - everyone has a good attitude about it."
McGuire, a sophomore majoring in political science who competed in national debate championships while attending Reno High School, is actually grateful for the 40 hours of practice over the next three days, commenting, "I appreciate that our team and our coach are willing to do it. It's a great opportunity for us to bond and come together as a team for a common goal."
"He's very serious about his commitment to do this and the process of researching," Coach Sharp said of McGuire, who has stepped up to be captain of the team. "He's what you would call a technical debater. He's got a rapid-delivery style, being great with word economy - being able to say more with less, a very important skill in debate."
Sharp said McGuire and Bassett complement each other, with Bassett being "very eloquent and personable. He has a wealth of knowledge in historical and political issues from all the reading he does and brings a world-perspective approach. He has incredible skills in the area of persuasion."
In addition to McGuire and Bassett, Sharp said the rest of the young team, 10 freshmen, show a lot of promise for the future.
"We have five debaters from Reno High, which has a really solid debate program," Sharp said. "We've got a lot of connection with Reno High and have built that relationship. Our team as a whole is strong and dedicated. I set the bar pretty high, so those who stick it out are committed and solid."
That's what it takes to make it to March madness.