June 23, 2018

June 23, 2018


Top Competitions, Camaraderie Speak to Team's Love of Debate

UT Dallas Debate Team

Debate partners Kyle Ballard and Thomas Flanagan, both sophomores, prepared for the upcoming season during the debate program’s summer camp.

When political science senior Jacob Loehr joined the UT Dallas debate team as a freshman, the group was so small that he was immediately bumped to the front of the lineup. 

“The first two years I was on the team it was pretty rough,” he said. “The team was very small compared to where it is now. We were worried that we didn’t have the numbers and that we didn’t have enough students to be super-competitive.” 

Loehr said the program goes through occasional brain drains, especially when a senior-heavy team weakens after graduation. But in four years, director Scott Herndon and the debate coaches have built the team back up to its original strength.

The team started this season with an invitation to the Kentucky Round Robin at the end of September. Teams must be invited to participate in the round robin, with only the top nine teams in the country competing. Other participating universities included Emory, Harvard and Georgetown.

UT Dallas’ team, consisting of Loehr and political science and public affairs senior Anthony Ogbuli, finished in sixth place. 

“We look at it as a chance to square off with the best of the best,” Herndon said. “You'll win some, you'll lose some, but in the end you've earned a spot among the elite programs and teams. In the nearly 60-year history of the KRR, you don't see schools like UTD attending regularly. We’ve built something special, and it's nice to be recognized for it.”

UT Dallas, like most college teams, focuses on policy debate in which teams of two students advocate for and against a resolution that usually calls for a change in policy by the federal government. 

This year, the team is tackling military presence in areas such as the Greater Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf. 

Economics sophomore Thomas Flanagan said the amount of information he has to process for competitions often surpasses his usual course load. 

UT Dallas Debate Team

This year's UT Dallas debate team competed against some of the top programs in the country at the Kentucky Round Robin. The team continues to grow as it recruits more young debaters.

“You definitely develop a lot of relationships in your mind about how certain things interact in terms of international issues,” he said. “And a lot of the information spills over from topic to topic.” 

Policy debate is more concerned with convincing a third party of your point, Flanagan said. The goal isn’t to find the perfect resolution to the issue but to find gaps in the reasoning of your opponent’s argument. 

Last weekend, UT Dallas took four teams to Wake Forest University for the largest tournament of the season. Ogbuli and Loehr ended with a 5-3 record, missing the elimination debates by a small margin. Junior Daniel Becker and sophomore Brandon Johnson went 4-4, as did sophomore Kyle Ballard and Flanagan. 

Throughout the season, Herndon said the next step is always the same — win the National Debate Tournament in the spring.

Loehr, who has qualified for the tournament four times, said the program sees more freshman recruits every year and retains more students than in the past. 

Most team members began their debate career early, usually their freshman or sophomore year of high school. The program recruits from all over the country, and Herndon said he’s known many of the team members since they were 15 years old. 

For Ogbuli, the power of speech initially drew him to debate.   

“When you’re a freshman in high school, there aren’t many outlets that exist where you can stand up and say ‘For the next eight minutes, everybody has to listen to what I have to say and what I say matters,’” Ogbuli said. “I think when you’re really young, there aren’t many opportunities to do that, but it’s a situation that causes a lot of personal growth.” 

For Ballard, who started debating in high school after his father urged him to join the team, it’s the sense of community. 

Debate prepares students for more than an argument. It makes them advocates and helps them learn to analyze problems from different perspectives.

UT Dallas debate team director Scott Herndon

“It’s a network of friends that I can go to for advice,” he said. “The fact that it’s just a good group to be a part of is what’s kept me around. Tournaments can be stressful because of the pressure to win, but talking it through with your debate partner helps.” 

Herndon said the entire environment of debate — not simply the competition but the travel, the politics and the collaborations — also teaches students to be well-rounded and strong advocates for themselves and their positions.

“It teaches students to parse information quickly and compellingly, create arguments on the fly and to adapt to different audiences,” Herndon said. “Debate prepares students for more than an argument. It makes them advocates and helps them learn to analyze problems from different perspectives.”

The team said the network that the debate community affords them is also a perk.

Megan Smalley, a freshman studying psychology and child learning and development, said it’s common for teams from schools of different levels to face off. 

“You have a huge contrast of people who are in Ivy League schools losing to people in community colleges and vice versa,” Smalley said. “Having the competition be so spread out is one of the things that makes debate great.” 

Loehr said the benefits extend beyond graduation. Many college debaters end up working at think tanks or as lawyers because the competition develops students with the skills to conduct heavy research.  

“When it’s all said and done, the debates are fleeting,” Herndon said. “A trophy sits in a case. The memories and experiences that people share are what makes the team special. I think that’s why we have such an active and engaged alumni group. The alumni come back to be connected to the people and the environment, and to be reminded of what made their time on the team special. Of course, winning is also cool. We all like to win.”

Media Contact: Miguel Perez, 972-883-2207, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, 972-883-2155, [email protected].

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