Hey, I'm talking here ...

University's nationally ranked top 10 debate team hosts national tournament

University debate team coach Phil Sharp, middle, does his best to officiate a lively discussion between two of his team's best members, team captain Jonathan McGuire and Kelly Brill.

3/14/2013 | By: Claudene Wharton  |

Once again, as the collegiate parliamentary debate season is about to culminate in the two season-ending national tournaments, the University of Nevada, Reno team is in a top-10 position, ranked ninth in the country as a team overall.

And, with the University hosting the first of the two national tournaments, the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence, this year, March 18-20, team captain Jonathan McGuire has high hopes for a strong finish.

"Having the tournament here on campus is great," he said. "There is a huge home-field advantage."

His debate partner, Kelly Brill, agreed: "We know the campus and can get to our next competition rooms easily and quickly. And, it's really nice to debate in a familiar place."

The tournament is free and open to the public, headquartered in the Schulich Lecture Hall, with debates also occurring in several adjacent buildings.

University President Marc Johnson is especially excited to see the tournament come to campus and will be attending the final debate and awards ceremony.

"Debate was my sport, so to speak," he said. "I really enjoyed it. It's terrific what our student debaters and Coach Sharp have achieved, and I'm thrilled that they'll get to compete here, on their home court. We'll all be rooting them on, for sure."

McGuire, a junior, and Brill, a sophomore, are a debate duo to be reckoned with, being ranked 11th in the nation out of 864 debate duos. It is that ranking that earned the duo an invitation to the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence, which is akin to the NCAA basketball tournament - only the top-seeded 62-64 collegiate parliamentary debate duos in the country are invited to compete.

A second team from the University also got a bid this year, freshman Steven Kish and sophomore Cory Nims, who are seeded 40th.

Both duos hail from local high schools, with McGuire, Brill and Nims having competed on the nationally competitive Reno High debate team, and Kish having competed at Galena High.

McGuire is the seasoned veteran of the group, being the only one of the four to have competed in this tournament before this year. Competing in the tournament in both his freshman and sophomore years, he learned a valuable lesson he is sharing with the others this year.

"It's a marathon, not a sprint," he said. "You have to keep that in mind. You can't let yourself get worn out. It's pretty grueling."

The message has sank in with Brill, who said in her first time competing in this national tournament she intends to "stay focused on it round by round, and just not get tired."

Phil Sharp, the team's coach and the University's forensics director in the College of Liberal Arts, said that Brill's debate strengths are that she is persuasive and strategic, and that she "sees the whole game board." McGuire, on the other hand "is a very fast debater, with strong arguments and a very high technical ability," he said. "When we put them together as debate partners this year, we found their styles were very complimentary. They have a good chemistry."

Perhaps that chemistry can be attributed to their dating relationship. The two will celebrate their three-year anniversary as a couple a week after the tournament on campus, on March 23, while at the other national tournament this year, the National Parliamentary Debate Association's Championship Tournament at University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

This is the more "open" tournament, where 150-200 debate duos compete, and in which the Nevada comes in ranking eighth, as a team. At least three duos from the University will compete in this year's tournament. McGuire and Brill hope to make it to the final rounds and still be competing in the tournament on their special day, and they attribute at least some of their debate success to their relationship outside of debate.

"Our first debate together this fall definitely did not feel like it was our first debate together," Jonathan said. "One of us can say one or two phrases, and the other knows exactly what to say next."

Still, the No. 11-ranked duo is not overconfident heading into the two national tournaments.

"It gets more and more difficult every year," McGuire said. "Just because you come in number 11 doesn't mean you are going to finish that high."

To boost their chance of success, each year before the final national tournaments, Sharp schedules several "lock-ins," days when the team holes up together in some place with "comfortable couches and a lot of coffee," as McGuire described it, to research and practice for hours on end.

"He truly wants us to be the best we can be, and he pushes us," Brill said. "He isn't easy on us. That's what makes us get better."

"We've been rebuilding since my freshman year," McGuire said, "and Coach has done a fantastic job. He is a great leader and a great skill-builder. He defines what every debate coach should be. Coach Sharp has always been dedicated to the success of the team."

Sharp has been the team's coach since fall 2008 and has built upon the team's already strong national reputation.

His first season at Nevada, he coached Nevada's Max Alderman and David Pena to an unprecedented first place in both of the national tournaments. And, in each of the subsequent three years, Nevada has had at least one duo finish in the top-10 of one of the national tournaments. Overall, as a team, Nevada finished last season ranked 18th in the country - not bad for a "rebuilding" year.

For more information on the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence to be held on the University of Nevada, Reno campus March 18-20, contact Sharp at psharp@unr.edu or 360-747-2944. Sharp encourages the community to come enjoy the tournament and support the home team.


For more news on the University of Nevada, Reno, follow @unevadareno on Twitter.

Get Nevada Today in your Inbox!