UW Team Invited to Debate’s Most Prestigious Competition

For the first time since 1968, a team from the University of Washington has been invited to debate’s most prestigious competition: the National Debate Tournament (NDT).

Alec Bellis, a sophomore from Gig Harbor, and Dylan Thomas, a senior from Mount Vernon, qualified for the tournament in the fifth (and last) slot in NDT District II. District II hosts competitors from Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

The number of bids each district gets for the NDT is allocated on the basis of how many teams each district fields, explains UW Debate Union Director, Michael Souders. “Thanks to the UW recently joining the district and particularly Rohan Hiatt’s (junior from Beaverton, OR) and McKenna Main’s (senior from Puyallup) competing well and maintaining our academic standards, District II had more bids than it has had in many years. Hiatt’s and Main’s performance is what allowed their teammates to qualify for the NDT; it was truly an all-out team effort.”

As representatives of the UW Debate Union, Bellis and Thomas will also be the first team from a public school in Washington to attend the NDT since 1986.

According to Dr. Souders, “the NDT is college policy debate’s version of the NCAA basketball tournament — only the best are invited.” Due to what he describes as “an accident of history,” collegiate policy debate has two national championship tournaments: the National Debate Tournament (NDT), which is qualification-only and limited to 78 teams, and the Cross-Examination Debate Association (CEDA) National Championship, “the people’s tournament,” which is open entry, hosts 100-150 competitors, and is known for its often raucous debates. The UW finished in 17th place in the open division of CEDA Nationals last year, with Communication student, Victoria Braun, winning the novice division.

Of these two championships, however, the NDT is reputed as the more elite; winning the tournament is considered the most difficult achievement in English-language collegiate debate, due to the exacting and technical style emphasized throughout the competition.

“This is an incredible achievement for our students, and one I thought was still a year or two away, so I’m really excited that our students have achieved it now!” Dr. Souders stated with much enthusiasm.

He insists that it was the UW Debate Union’s strength as a team and its adherence to high standards that have made this level of competition possible. “Our team has pretty rigorous academic requirements for participation—higher than what is mandated by our governing organization,” Dr. Souders explains. “Our program does more academic monitoring and maintenance than any other program of which I know. Where other schools struggle to keep students academically eligible, most of our competitors have gone on to receive awards from the governing organization of debate. We’ve had a UW student receive the CEDA National Debate Scholar Summa Cum Laude award, its highest academic award, every year since our founding.”

This year’s NDT Tournament will be held at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas.