November 13, 2009

Debaters sweep tournaments in California

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- There is one place students at other universities don’t necessarily want to see a Southern Illinois University Carbondale team, and that is across the aisle at a debate tournament.

Saluki debaters did it again, sweeping the final two tournaments of the first semester with zero losses. The team competed in championships in California at the University of the Pacific and the University of California at Berkeley last weekend. Todd Graham, director of debate at SIUC, noted that the tournaments are the largest of the semester, hosting between them approximately 140 debate teams from around the country.

Kevin Calderwood, a political science major from Chesterfield, Mo., and Brandon Merrell, a dual major in political science and economics from Snohomish, Wash., teamed up to win both tournaments.

The Berkeley tournament saw Calderwood and Merrell rolling over the competition all the way to the final round, where they faced a team from Texas Tech University. It was déjà vu, because this was the same final round match-up as at a previous prestigious tournament this year at William Jewell College. Calderwood and Merrell won by unanimous decision by the three judges.

“We’ve been trying to win this tournament for many years, and now we have finally done it,” Graham said. “Kevin and Brandon can say that they are the champions at Berkeley. Pretty sweet, huh?”

What’s the big deal about winning at Berkeley? For one thing, it’s at UC-Berkeley. Graham elaborated on that theme, saying, “The tradition at Berkeley is rich. It’s the home of free speech, free thinkers, activism, engagement, and some of the smartest students in the country. And now it’s the place where SIUC beat the best debaters in the country.”

But Calderwood and Merrell weren’t the only SIUC debaters to make a good showing at Berkeley. The team of Michael Selck, a speech communication major from Blue Springs, Mo., and Jeff Jones, a freshman from Belleville, Ill., tied for ninth place at the tournament -- a very good showing for a team not only new to college debate, but also new to debating as partners.

The second tournament, at the University of the Pacific, involved more than 75 teams. SIUC won that tournament last year. Calderwood and Merrell faced the home team, UP, in the final round. Graham noted that home field advantage does mean something, even in debate. However, SIUC won in a 2-1 decision.

Selck entered the tournament as a single debater to form a “hybrid team” with a debater from University of Texas at El Paso, Richard Flores. The temporary team placed third in the tournament.

“It’s hard to imagine SIUC having a better semester,” Graham said. “We have Kevin and Brandon winning the three most prestigious tournaments of the semester, and we have Mike clearing the elimination rounds at every tournament . . . and with a different partner at each. I have no doubt he is the best freshman in the country. Overall, it’s the best we have ever started a season.”

So, no pressure on Selck, right?

“Being on a highly competitive team is one thing I wanted from debate at SIUC,” Selck said. “But yes, there is quite a bit of pressure. Kevin Calderwood is a national champion debater, and under Todd Graham’s direction we are far more competitive than I could have imagined being while I was debating at the high school level.”