Debate team wins championship, earns ‘New Program of the Year’ award

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In its initial year as a revitalized program, The Policy Debate Coalition at the University of Washington won the Western Novice Championship at CSU-Sacramento this spring, and also won second place in the Western Junior Varsity Championship.

The team additionally completed 10 days of competition in the National Junior Division Debate Tournament (NJDDT) and the Cross-Examination Debate Association (CEDA) National Championships, where they were named the Brady Lee Garrison New Program of the Year by CEDA.

“This is our very first year of competition and most of our competitors had little or no experience coming into the season,” said Dr. Michael Souders, director of the program. “What they’ve achieved is phenomenal. The fact that our program was awarded the Brady Lee Garrison New Program of the Year award by CEDA is a testament to how far our program has come in a very short time.”

In addition to winning the new program award, several members of the team won individual honors, including Zachary Reshovsky (Senior, International Studies), who was named a National Debate Scholar with Summa Cum Laude status. Senior Tim Pollard LA debate tournament(Electrical Engineering) was also named a National Debate Scholar, with Cum Laude status.

McKenna Mains (Sophomore, Political Science) and Rebecca Petrone (Freshman, undeclared) finished third in the country in novice debate at the CEDA national championships. The duo won the Western Novice Championship at CSU-Sacramento, undefeated and winning nine consecutive debates.

Daria Micovic (Sophomore, undeclared) and Michael Elizondo (Sophomore, undeclared) received third place in the novice division at the CSU-Sacramento tournament, winning seven debates in a row before falling in the semifinals on a split 2-1 decision.

Zachary Maghirang (Sophomore, communication) and Reshovsky placed ninth in the NJDDT, which featured the best freshman/sophomore teams in the nation.

The team also ranked third in the Western region in the yearlong points race, and was the only team in the Pacific Northwest Region to field a novice team.

“We’re the only team in our region that actively trains and promotes competitors with no prior policy debate experience…I think that fact reflects well on our department’s commitment to being accessible and that takes public debate as a philosophy,” Souders said. “It also speaks to the essential role we are playing in debate in our region.”

Souders said his goal from the beginning has been to build a program that is worthy of a world-class public university like the UW.

“I think that means building a dynamic team that is open to beginners and recruits talented competitors from across the state and region,” he said. “It also means making sure our program keeps its commitment to bring debate to the campus and putting on great events like the Philipsen Forum public debate event we hold each fall.”

Professor and Chair David Domke has declared his commitment to sustaining the debate program, stating that it has been a highlight of his time as chair.

“Michael Souders is doing a fantastic job,” he said. “We’re bringing many students together to practice and engage in and learn from debates, and he’s guiding students to successes in competitions. We want to do both the former and the latter. Michael has been a great choice to lead this work. The practice of debate is one of the single best ways for students to learn how to think and to organize their ideas. Over the years I heard from a number of alums about the impact of debate on them as undergrads.”

McKenna Mains (left) and her debate partner Rebecca Petrone

McKenna Mains (left) and her debate partner Rebecca Petrone

Below, Mains reflects on her experiences being on the team as an undergrad:

What made you decide to join the debate team?

“I did debate in high school because I thought it would teach me more about politics. It not only did that, but helped me learn about a ton of other things as well. Coming in to college I had to decide if I wanted to take on the time commitment and stress debating might bring, and I decided that the skills I gain from debate make the experience priceless. I am a confident public speaker, have been trained in fast and efficient research, and get to travel all around the country; but the reason I do debate is because it makes me smarter.”

What was the National Junior Division Debate Tournament like? How did you prepare?

“The tournament was really fun, my partner Rebecca and I were nervous because it is a national tournament in Kansas and we thought it would be way more intimidating than it really was. It’s great because you get to debate and become friends with people from all around the country.

“In terms of preparation, the entire year is prep for us. The topic we debate is in fact for the whole year so by the time you get to the championship ones at the end of the year, you should be pretty well versed with the literature. One thing that I think was particularly vital to our success was that we competed at the Western United States Junior Division tournament in Sacramento the previous weekend and did really well there, and that was the perfect last minute prep.”

What are your thoughts on the team earning the New Program of the Year award from CEDA?

“The University of Washington Policy Debate Program was extremely successful for being in its first year. I mean extremely successful. Being able to be the second best team in our district while being a first year program is unheard of in the circuit. We had an amazing varsity team headed by Tim Pollard who racked up the trophies around the nation. Our coach Michael Souders is the reason for it; he was a very good debater in college and coached a team to win the big national championship tournament while he was getting his doctorate at the University of Kansas. He knew exactly what our team had to do in order to secure a place as a competitive debate team and he put in a lot of hard work to make it happen. When they were giving the award at the ceremony, people gave us a standing ovation for our success – the entire time I was like, ‘we should really be giving a standing ovation to Dr. Souders right now.’”

What are you majoring in and what are your career goals? Anything involved or connected to debate? 

“I am majoring in political science (who would’ve thought) and want to go to law school. You are actually talking to the most cliché member of the team in terms of debate skills relating to your career choice, because most of the people on the team are some kind of science or engineering major. Debate can help with whatever kind of career you intend to pursue; we debate about global warming just as much as we debate about politics. In terms of how it will help me with law school – while you might assume my arguing skills will help me be a lawyer or politician, it’s actually the research part that will help me the most. Our rounds do depend on our speaking skills, but it always comes back to the evidence and the work you put into it before the round. That’s why I think I want to go to law school – finding evidence to help your case and applying it correctly is something that I find cool.”

Written by Ashley Walls