March 26, 2012

Debate team again shines on national stage

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Southern Illinois University Carbondale Debate Team has finished in the top four at the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence, the equivalent in debate of national championships, four times in the past five years. 

This year, the team did it again, but this time, SIU Carbondale fielded two duos to take two spots in the top four.  And that hasn’t been done before -- not by any university. This debate tournament crowns the year, with the top 64 duos invited out of the 878 that competed during the season.

The duo of Sid Rehg (Swansea), a junior speech communication major, and Josh Rivera (Chicago), a freshman political science major, finished third in the tournament on March 24, and the duo of Ben Campbell (Springfield, Mo.) a junior political science major, and Mike Selck (Blue Springs, Mo.), a junior speech communication major, placed fourth.

 “We are very proud of the debate team’s accomplishments in this tournament and throughout the season,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said.  “The team members are wonderful ambassadors for the University who consistently demonstrate their commitment to excellence.”

The high finish wasn’t an out-of-the blue surprise, of course, not with the reputation SIU Carbondale has developed with its debate successes.  Campbell and Selck were ranked at the top going into the tournament, and had five previous tournament wins this season to their credit.  Rehg and Rivera had won a tournament recently as well, giving SIU Carbondale six tournament wins out of 13 tournaments.

Todd Graham, director of debate, explained a bit how debate tournaments work.  An open-ended topic, such as “Increase food aid to Sudan,” “Eliminate preferential tax treatment for carried interest,” “Increase restrictions on ballast water dumping,” or “The United Kingdom should replace the Pound Sterling with the Euro,” is presented.  Teams are assigned a “positive” stance, in which they argue in favor of the stated topic.  A “negative” team argues against the topic.

 The catch is that both teams have only 20 minutes from learning the subject of the debate to having to debate it. In that short period of time, they are expected to research and bring with them into the debate only what they learned in that 20 minutes of research -- and during the months spent scouring current topics of world interest.

Graham has said before that the SIU Carbondale team simply out-works other teams.  This year, once again, the work has paid a successful dividend. And not just at the tournament.

“Debate has made me the person I am today: the research, argumentation, critical thinking, and public speaking skills I have learned are only possible with debate,” Campbell said.  “I take pride in knowing I represent SIU across the United States.  I know I have big shoes to fill but at the same time, I thrive because of the history the Saluki Debate Team has had; it really is quite motivating.”

Campbell said his other source of motivation is the debate coaching team, which, in addition to Graham, includes graduate assistants Kevin Calderwood, Kyle Cheesewright, and Steve Farias.  He said he believes the team’s success would not have been possible without the dedication, support, and guidance from the coaches.

Rivera agreed, saying, “While getting third and fourth in nationals is not easy, it is made easier by the encouragement we get from the excellent coaching staff at SIU.  I could not ask for a better group of people to learn from.”