March 21, 2011

SIUC debaters finish third at national tournament

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- For the fourth year in a row, the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Debate Team finished in the top three in the National Parliamentary Debate Association, finishing the season as the third best team in the country.

The invitational debate sees the top ranked 64 debate teams competing for top honors for the season. The duo of Brandon Merrell, a senior from Snohomish, Wash., majoring in political science and economics, and Mike Selck, a sophomore from Blue Springs, Mo., majoring in speech communication, went all the way to the Final Four, taking their only loss from the eventual national champions, a team from the University of Oregon.

While the team takes nothing for granted, their winning ways all season and the hard work that makes the winning happen does lead them to expect a strong finish to a strong season.

“Brandon and Mike won four tournaments this year, including some of the largest and most prestigious debate tournaments,” Todd Graham, director of debate at SIUC, said. “This excellent finish at the national championships was not a fluke.”

In addition to the team win, Merrell earned an All American Award, an award given to only three debaters nationwide. Merrell earned the award not just from his debate success, but also because of his grade point average and his community and University service. He is only the second SIUC debater to earn this award.

“He accomplished so much at SIUC that it is hard to keep track,” Graham said. “I can tell you that Brandon won eight debate tournaments and finished in third place two years in a row at our national championships.”

SIUC’s junior team of Ben Campbell, a freshman from Springfield, Mo., majoring in economics and political science, and Andrew Thomas, a junior from Stockton, Calif., majoring in English and philosophy, qualified to compete at the nationals -- and were ranked in the Top 10 in 7th place. However, due to illness, the duo was unable to compete.

“It’s a shame, since Ben and Andrew could have done very well,” Graham said. “It was heartbreaking for everyone involved to have to pull them from the tournaments.”

The NPTE Nationals were held during spring break at the University of Denver. The debate season runs from September through March. The team spends intensive hours preparing to debate complex issues pertaining to a variety of current events.

For more information about the debate program at SIUC, visit