The University of Nevada, Reno Debate Team ends their season strong claiming first and second place in the Western States Communication Association's tournament in San Diego in early March. Four of the 20 members of the Intercollegiate Debate Program helped improve the squad's overall No. 15 place ranking before the national tournaments.
The National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence, a tournament for the top 54 teams in the nation, takes place at El Camino Community College starting March 14, The National Parliamentary Debate Association tournament is held March 18 through 21 at Cal State Long Beach. The NPDA is the largest intercollegiate debate organization in the United States priding itself on fostering knowledgeable and engaged citizens while bringing unique debate styles from across the country. Nevada Debate will take six teams to the NPDA Championships.
"This year in particular, I am encouraged by the team's willingness to work," Phil Sharp, the debate team coach and forensics director in the College of Liberal Arts at the University, said. "Their desire to do better and to improve are the keys to success that will lead both partner teams to hopefully finish strong in the national tournament."
The squad's top-two teams entered the WSCA tournament in San Diego this month hoping to improve their standings before the national tournament.
The squad's top duo Grace Miller and Jakob Christensen, pulled a perfect tournament finishing as the first and second speakers and went 5-0 in the preliminary rounds, and won both the quarters and semi-finals on 3-0 decisions.
The University's other top debate duo, Daniel Armbrust and Evelyn Valencia-Rodriguez, began the tournament in San Diego dropping rounds one and two, but they quickly bounced back to make it all the way to the final rounds joining their teammates as unofficial co-champions of the tournament.
Because of the four-month long season success and qualifying-tournament wins, the two teams jump in the national standings. Both Miller and Christensen sit at sixth place while Armbrust and Valencia jump to the No. 29 spot, but before the final tournament, weeks of research, practice and dedication fill the time of the Debate team.
"In the weeks leading to nationals, we go to school, eat, we spend hours at debate practice and researching, go home, sleep, rinse and repeat," Armbrust said. "If you have work, throw that in too."
Students dedicate many hours and days to practice and competitions year round, beginning with debate camps during summer, four-hour weekly meetings/practices during the academic year to hone their skills, nine regional competitions - 27 competition days - plus nationals, a weekend-long prep session before nationals, a public debate in the spring, year-end gatherings and volunteer judging at local high school competitions.
The debate topics for the national tournament are comprised of five controversial issues, which include: the United States federal government should substantially increase its investment in transportation safety infrastructure; the United States federal government should substantially increase oversight of, or restrictions on, its electronic surveillance; the United States federal government should substantially increase its support for rural development in the United States; the United States should establish a policy to facilitate and/or expedite the repatriation of cultural property; and the United States federal government should consent to be bound by, and implement either economic, social and cultural rights or convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
"We split up the research between our partnerships, but we also have the support of our team," Christensen said. "So, we come up with what strategies that we want to use on all of the resolutions, then farm out parts of the research to people who are willing to help us out."
Although there are only two teams competing in the national tournament, the rest of the squad dedicates their time researching for the two teams allowing them to put together strong arguments.
"We have a family vibe this year," Miller said. "The rest of our team has been extremely helpful in the prep room. Since it is only the four of us going, having extra help with researching is them being awesome teammates."
Beyond tournaments, University debaters have success both inside and outside of the classroom.
"The cool thing about debate is that we spend weeks conducting research and analyzing data," Amburst said. "The skills we learn are very applicable in most of my classes." Miller agreed.
"Professors think very highly of debate," Miller said. "They always say, 'you're a debater so you will probably do well in this class.' As I've progressed through debate, I have found that my professors enjoy engaging with me and have seemed more willing to write letters of recommendation for scholarships and job applications."
"The ability for debaters to think on their feet, think critically, research effectively and argue points with a goal in mind is looked at by employers with high regard," Sharp said. "For them to use what they learn in practice, at the tournaments and from each other will ultimately lead to opportunities in the future."
During Sharp's first season, he coached the University's Max Alderman and David Pena to an unprecedented first place at both of the national tournaments in 2009, the NPDA and the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence. In 2014, the University's Nevada Debate Union, a student-run club part of the Department of Communication Studies, was selected by the Associated Students of the University of Nevada as the Outstanding Club of the Year, and two of the top debate team members were selected as the Outstanding Club Leaders of the Year, for both the men and women's categories. To top the season, the squad captured the 2014 Season Sweepstakes Championship Title, ranking first out of 189 schools. In 2015, Sharp was named ASUN Club Advisor of the Year.
Catch the University team in action during the Nevada Debate Union's annual public debate, free and open to the community Thursday, April 21. The environmentally themed debate begins at 6 p.m. in the Wells Fargo Auditorium in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center.