University Debate Team’s Confidence Grows for Next Stage of Season
Strong, individual performances in the fall and early this year by the newest members of the UT Dallas debate team have the group excited about its prospects for upcoming tournaments.
In a recent regional tournament in Oklahoma, a UT Dallas debater placed first for his individual performance, another placed in the top 10, and a UT Dallas pair finished in the top 25 percent. And in a tournament this month on campus, team members reached the semifinals.
Debate team member Evan Gilbert practices for an upcoming competition. Gilbert won the top individual award at a regional tournament at the University of Central Oklahoma last fall.
“There were a lot of great things about our recent tournament,” said Scott Herndon, director of debate.
Ten of the 16 members of the debate team are freshmen and sophomores. Herndon said he views that as an advantage in upcoming tournaments.
“I believe this is the strongest group of freshmen and sophomores we’ve had in years. Their steady results bode well for us sending two teams to the National Debate Tournament in April,” he said.
The 2019 National Debate Tournament, hosted by the University of Minnesota, is one of the most important debate events of the year for collegiate teams.
Evan Gilbert, a junior finance major, won the top individual speaker prize at the University of Central Oklahoma tournament. He said judges look for clarity and the ability of the speaker to explain main points.
“Between speeches, there’s a point where you’re questioning your opponents and they question you,” Gilbert said. “A speaker’s performance during those particular three minutes weighs heavily into the individual speaking score.”
Jan. 19-21: Crowe Warken Debate Tournament (United States Naval Academy)
Feb. 1-4: Owen L. Coon Memorial Debates (Northwestern University)
Feb. 23-25: District III National Debate Tournament Qualifier
March 8-10: American Debate Association National Tournament (University of Georgia)
March 29-April 2: National Debate Tournament (University of Minnesota)
April 3-7: Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament (California State University, Long Beach)
Herndon said Gilbert differentiates himself by speaking well and providing solid content.
“He’s able to take complicated arguments and explain them in a way that’s compelling. It’s not just about sounding good,” he said.
Gilbert said the key to debate team success is preparation. Herndon agreed, saying that teams have to prevent opponents from being comfortable with their game plans.
“Teams stylistically handle their arguments and speeches in certain ways — ways in which they are comfortable,” he said. “Using a sports analogy, teams run offenses that they’re comfortable with. It’s similar in debate with different teams attacking you in various ways. Sometimes knowing how to prevent that brings tournament success.”
Gilbert’s debate partner, Devin Brown, also received a good individual speaker rank at the regional tournament, finishing 10th.
Herndon said that while the UT Dallas debate program is well-respected and well-known in the world of collegiate debate, it has even higher aspirations.
“We compete with universities such as Northwestern, Texas, Dartmouth, Harvard, Michigan and Kansas. They don’t want to debate us,” Herndon said. “There are not a lot of other programs where you can say UT Dallas beat Harvard.”
He said one reason for the debate team’s success is its strong support from the University, which brings in excellent students.
“We have smart kids learning to be civil and engaged, which is so important at any university. It creates a good debate environment and one that fosters success,” he said.