May 14, 2008

Champion debaters honored at State Capitol

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The best debate team in the country -- the Southern Illinois University Carbondale duo of Kevin Calderwood and Kyle Dennis, and their coach, SIUC debate program director Todd Graham -- basked in the limelight at the State Capitol in Springfield today (May 14).

The three were special guests of Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, also greeted the team while it was in Springfield, introducing them on the floors of the House and the Senate, respectively. Bost read a resolution honoring the entire team for its accomplishments that was approved unanimously by the House.

"We are terrifically excited and a little bit nervous," Graham said during the drive north to Springfield. "We didn't expect anything this prestigious -- it's quite an honor for us and for the University. SIUC gets a lot of support from Illinois, and we are honored to be able to show the legislators some of the accomplishments their support helps SIUC achieve."

"It's been a very special experience for us and for the University," Dennis said. "We heard congratulations and praise all over the Capitol. There are all sorts of alumni there working in all sorts of occupations." Though Dennis graduated last weekend and plans to pursue graduate studies at Texas Tech University, he said he will surely remain a Saluki at heart.

The honor acknowledges the overall success of the 2007-2008 SIUC Debate Team, culminating in a first-place finish at the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence, the most highly regarded debate national championship in the country. The Calderwood-Dennis duo defeated 54 teams during their rise to the top of this select tournament. Though 54 teams actually competed, 300 teams attempted to qualify debating duos. Only teams with the best season records attended this national champion debate tournament.

The team also made a good showing at the secondary national tournament, the National Parliamentary Debate Association tournament. Calderwood finished with the top individual award, cementing his position as the best debater in the nation. Dennis took third place in the individual awards. There were 500 debaters competing for the individual awards.

In addition, the SIUC team of Katie Thomas and Adam Testerman won fifth place as a team at this tournament.

"We want to salute the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Debate Team for making the Land of Lincoln proud by bringing the national trophy home to Illinois with their top-notch debate skills," Quinn said, explaining why he invited the team to visit Springfield.

Bost said he enjoyed "showing off the best of the best" to the entire House of Representatives. He noted that SIUC is one of the very few universities with a national win in every decade of competition -- this is the sixth time since SIUC began fielding a debate team for a national win.

"SIUC has a wonderful history and I'm kind of proud of them," Bost said. "At a time when government keeps cutting higher education, it's good to see what success some of our students still achieve.

"Southern Illinois University has a proud tradition in teaching, research and public service. It is widely recognized for graduating students who are well prepared to become leaders in their fields. I congratulate the faculty and students for their continuing commitment to excellence," he said.

Luechtefeld noted, "We want to let people in Illinois know what a great accomplishment this is and that that they should be proud of our SIUC Debate Team."

Calderwood is a junior in political science from Chesterfield, Mo., and Dennis, from Blue Springs, Mo., earned his degree in economics. Thomas, from Fort Collins, Colo. is a political science major and Testerman, from Springfield, Mo., majors in cinema and photography. Other members of the team are Nicholas Deml of La Crosse, Wis. (political science), and graduate student assistants Benjamin Haas from Poplar Bluff, Mo., and Brian Norcross from San Diego, Calif.