March 27, 2007

SIUC debate team finishes season ranked ninth in nation

by Tom Woolf

CARBONDALE, Ill. – The men's basketball team at Southern Illinois University Carbondale isn't the only team to make it to the "sweet 16" of a national tournament. Just like the "Dawgs," Kyle Dennis and Justin Hingtgen ended their season as one of the top debate teams in the country.

SIUC's team competes in the National Parliamentary Debate Association, the largest debating organization in the country. The NPDA recently finished its national championship tournament, held at Colorado College. With 240 debate teams from almost 100 universities, it was the largest tournament this year.

Dennis, a junior in economics from Blue Spring, Mo., and Hingtgen, a senior in business from West Des Moines, Iowa, finished the three-day tournament as the ninth best debate team in the nation.

"Kyle and Justin finished as one of the top 10 debate teams in the country," said Todd Graham, director of the University's debate program since 2000. "It was a great way to end the season. They had been debating at such a high level all year, winning a major tournament and never finishing outside of the top 20 in any tournament."

The debate program is part of the speech communication department in the College of Liberal Arts.

Dennis and Hingtgen won nine debates and lost two in the NPDA tournament. After the first eight preliminary debates, their record was 7-1, making them one of the top 10 seeds once the single-elimination portion of the tournament began. Much like the NCAA men's basketball tournament, the NPDA takes the top 64 teams after the first eight preliminary debates and sets them up in a single-elimination tournament.

Dennis and Hingtgen won the first two elimination debates, moving them into the "sweet 16." However, the SIUC team then fell to a team from Texas Tech University in a narrow 3-2 decision by the judges.

"Kyle and Justin were really on a roll, and I actually thought we would win that last debate of ours and keep moving on in the tournament," Graham said. "But the judges decided otherwise, and we ended up on the wrong end of a very close decision. It was heartbreaking, but shouldn't take anything away from their tremendous accomplishment. They were clearly one of the best debate teams in the country this year."

The ninth-place ranking was based on records and when the team was eliminated from the tournament. SIUC finished ahead of such schools as Notre Dame, Pepperdine, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Missouri, University of Washington, University of Colorado, University of Oregon, Minnesota, University of Utah, Whitman College and Temple University. A team from Point Loma Nazarene University captured the tournament title.

The final event of the year for the SIUC debate team is an exhibition against the Irish national champions. This is a first for SIUC, as the Irish only visit a few universities on their trip. The event, which is open to the public, is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 4, in the Lesar Law Building auditorium.

"This exhibition debate against the Irish national champions should be incredibly fun," Graham said. "They are not only bright, but quite humorous in their approach to debating. Anyone who decides to attend will have a great time."