Last weekend, Trinity University sent two teams to the National Debate Tournament (NDT) at Binghamton University in New York. Seniors Maggie Solice and Nathan Rothenbaum competed alongside first year Drew Sposeep and junior Austen Yorko against the best 78 teams in the nation.
Solice and Rothenbaum placed 24th with five wins before losing to Wake Forest debaters in the double octafinals; Sposeep and Yorko came in 76th with two wins at the most prestigious tournament of the year. The debate team’s coach, William Mosley-Jensen, professor of human communication, was awarded the Zeigelmueller Award for being the coach of the year during the 2015–16 debate season.
The teams competed in policy debate, arguably the most challenging form of debate to participate in. The topic concerned military presence, specifically whether or not the United States should significantly reduce its military presence in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf, the Greater Horn of Africa or Northeast Asia.
“We qualified through a competitive tournament in Oklahoma,” Rothenbaum said. “We were really excited to go — this whole year we have been a contender for one of the top teams in the nation, and coming into the tournament [Maggie and I] were ranked 18th in the country.”
During the tournament, the teams went through eight rounds of preliminary debates, and are then split into an NCAA-style bracket once they reach the top 32. The next round is then the top 24, and then the top 16 and the top 8. In the end, Solice and Rothenbaum reached No. 24, becoming just the second Trinity team to break out of the eight preliminary rounds.
In policy debate, the teams are partnerships of two people. Each team is assigned the affirmative or negative side of the argument. There are four constructive speeches, one made by each debater, and each followed by a three-minute cross-examination period. After this, there are four rebuttals.
“This is where the most important issues come into focus,” Solice said. “You have to really clarify the best arguments you have for the judges and close all of the doors on issues the other team has brought up.”
The process is over two hours long, and each tournament consists of at least eight rounds of this.
Leading up to the tournament, Trinity’s debate teams had an impressive season.
“They did very well during the season, and reached the top 16 at multiple different competitions,” Mosley-Jensen said.
The teams competed at colleges such as Georgia State University, Kentucky University, Harvard University, Wake Forest University, and the University of Texas at Austin. Rothenbaum and Solice went 6-3 at Harvard, beating teams from Georgetown University, University of Kansas, Dartmouth College and more.
Trinity’s teams put an extremely impressive amount of work in their research to get as far as they did at the NDT.
“We prepared for six weeks, about two hours a day, plus five to six hours each Saturday and Sunday,” Mosley-Jensen said.
This extensive amount of preparation continued during spring break, a period Mosley-Jensen deemed “NDT Work Week.” The teams worked with Mosley-Jensen as well as assistant coach and assistant professor of communication Collin Roark for eight to ten hours each day during the break to research any and all arguments on both sides of the policy issue.
“Honestly, I love the research before a tournament,” Solice said, “I spent literally hundreds of hours researching Iranian nuclear technology and proliferation.”
During the tournament, Austen Yorko and Drew Sposeep beat Georgetown University, who had teams place 48th and 15th, and Stanford University, whose team placed 68th, during the eight preliminary rounds. Solice and Rothenbaum defeated teams from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (31st), The University of Vermont (10th), Rutgers University (8th), the University of Kentucky (6th and 17th), and the University of Southern California (29th).
“My favorite win was our round against Rutgers,” Solice said, “Not only are they an amazing team that has been really successful throughout the season, one of the debaters is my really good friend.”
Solice met this friend while volunteering at the Women’s Debate Institute over the summer, and was happy to debate against someone she was familiar with.
Rothenbaum had a similar experience.
“One of the debaters on the Kentucky team was actually a debater I would debate all the time back in high school, and having Maggie to back me up this time around really made the difference.”
Rothenbaum also shared that Vermont was the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) National Champion, “ostensibly one of the best teams in the nation,” and Trinity’s team beat Vermont in a 3-0 decision.
Concerning the difficulty of the tournament, Mosley-Jensen shared that Trinity’s teams tied with Harvard for the hardest strength of schedule. The strength of schedule measures the average number of wins the opponents of each team has. Trinity and Harvard both had a 5.5 strength of schedule, while a team only needs five wins to reach the top 32.
“The competition showcased a diverse range of quality debate teams that were all intensely prepared,” Mosley-Jensen said.
Other schools competing included Emory University, Northwestern University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Trinity’s teams definitely stood out amongst the crowds. Their victories and progress prove the immense amount commitment from not only the students, but the coaches as well.
Mosley-Jensen was awarded the 2016 Ziegelmueller Award, proving his excellent coaching skills and commitment to the debate community. The award recognizes a general contribution to the debate community as well as scholarly activity in debate. During the summer, Mosley-Jensen and Rothenbaum co-authored a paper as a part of Trinity’s Mellon Initiative Research Fellowship that will soon be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Mosley-Jensen saw the award as “validation and recognition for all the hard work that goes into being a good coach,” as well as recognition of the amazing teams he has coached.
“I can’t imagine a more fitting award,” Solice said, “He not only puts his heart into being a coach, he puts every spare moment he has into [coaching].”
Trinity’s debate season has been one of the best yet, thanks to dedicated students and coaches alike. Debate is arguably one of the hardest academic activities, and is an educational experience that is hugely valuable.
“Debate can really teach you something about yourself — if you put your mind to something and grind, you will succeed. It was a good lesson, to want something so bad that you put your blood, sweat and tears into it, and to go the entire distance for it,” Rothenbaum said.