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Second best in the country!

March 24, 2016

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Southern Illinois University finished as the runner-up at this year’s National Championships of Debate.  The NPDA (National Parliamentary Debate Association) national championship tournament recently completed its competition, which was hosted at California State University, Long Beach from March 19-21.

Reaching the championship debate, SIU finished higher than universities such as Tulane, Rice, Berkeley, Texas Tech, Missouri, Oregon, Washington, and Loyola. 

The SIU team of junior Arielle Stephenson, and freshman Bobby Swetz were the talk of the tournament, winning debate after debate before finally getting bested in the championship debate against a team from William Jewell College.  Stephenson and Swetz finished with an outstanding record of thirteen wins and two losses at the championship. 

“Super proud!” said Dr. Todd Graham, the Director of Debate at SIU.  “Arielle and Bobby exceeded all expectations we had for them at the beginning of the year.  I told everyone this was a rebuilding year, since we lost our national champions from previous years to graduation, and Arielle and Bobby were so young.  When they heard me telling people that, well, I think I made them mad.” 

So to prove Graham wrong, they redoubled their research and practice times.  Then, after winning the Mile High tournament hosted at the University of Utah earlier this semester, Graham pivoted his approach.  “That was when I knew we had something special.  I had to stop telling people we were rebuilding.  Bobby and Arielle turned everyone into believers.  Simply outstanding!”

SIU continued its record streak of having a team compete in the “final-four” of a national championship for it’s 9th straight year.  “I know Dr. Todd really wanted to continue our final-four streak,” said Swetz.  Myself personally, I wanted to continue the SIU streak of winning a championship for a fourth record-setting year.”  No other team had won a title three consecutive years until the Salukis achieved that last season.   “Arielle and I were one win away, so I guess we’ll just have to start a new streak next year,” said Swetz with a smile.  2016 makes the sixth time in nine years SIU has advanced into the championship debate, winning four of those years. 

“Bobby and I have contrasting debating styles,” said Stephenson.  “And we compliment each other so well.  In any given debate, the judge will appreciate at least one of our styles, which give us a unique advantage over our opponents.  Generally, debate judges really like at least one of our approaches.”  Or as Graham, who’s judged every presidential debate for CNN.com this cycle, “The closest analogy I can provide in styles of debate would be this.  Bobby is idealistic.  This is most similar to either Sanders or Trump in style of presentation, whereas Arielle pays more attention to detail, which compares stylistically to either Clinton or Cruz.  

There were 165 teams competing at the tournament, out of a total number of 794 teams that competed this year.  “There are no divisions in debate,” said Graham.  “So as you can expect, there are excellent teams from smaller institutions as well as large.  We lost to a better team today, and they deserved to win the national title.” 

“We get a different topic, or resolution to debate, for each new debate round, with about 20 minutes to prepare once the topic is announced.  So it’s tough, and the topics were quite diverse this year,” said Graham.  “Bobby and Arielle had to debate either side of topics ranging from the Fair Labor Standards Act, to whether or not the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, to Glass-Steagall and Dodd-Frank laws, to veto powers of the United Nations Security Council, to whether or not we should increase our ice-breaking fleet, to admitting Puerto Rico as a 51st state, to providing the United States government access to backdoor encryption protocols for telecommunication companies. “

Stephenson is a community college transfer from El Camino College, and she is new to SIU this year, while Swetz is a freshman from Homewood.