Debate duo join UK’s running list of national champions


The University Intercollegiate Debate team won the 2019 National Debate Tournament championship, making them only the second team to do so in history. Photo provided by Lincoln Garrett

Akhira Umar

The 2018-2019 school year not only saw the end of UK’s 31-game losing streak against Florida in football, it more recently has seen the end of the 33 years since UK’s last National Debate Tournament championship.

On March 25, two UK students brought the title back to the university for the first time since 1986. Dan Bannister and Anthony Trufanov are now one of only two UK debate teams to be called NDT champions.

So what is it like being a national champion?

“It’s been kind of surreal,” Trufanov said.

He originally came to UK specifically for its debate team, having been a successful debater back in high school. Now as a junior political science and Russian studies major in the Lewis Honors College, Trufanov has come a long way and is finally getting to see the fruits of his labor.

The same can be said for Bannister, also a junior political science major, who joined the team on scholarship during his senior year of high school. After procuring the NDT trophy, that scholarship has proven to be well deserved.

Lincoln Garrett, the debate team’s head coach, said the two were ranked fifth in regular season last year, raising the expectation for their performance, to which they no doubt exceeded. The pair can credit their success to both their work ethic and their chemistry.

“Debating with Anthony is really fun. We’ve been partners for all three years of our time on the team, and it’s really nice to be debating with someone who, in my mind, is actually better than me at debate. It pushes and challenges me to be my best,” Bannister said.

Trufanoy said he and Bannister complement each other well.

“He’s a much better speaker than I am and great at thinking on his feet, while I am better at working out game plans and doing research to make them come together,” Trufanov said. “We’ve also become good friends and were roommates this year. He’s the best partner anyone could ask for.”

Along with their sense of comradery, they also understand the importance of finding a balance in their work, something which Trufanov said can be challenging. Debate tournaments are typically three- to four-day events that require hours of research to form strategic arguments. For the NDT alone, the team had to forfeit spring break just to prepare for the competition.

“Being on a debate team is just like any other college sports organization or activity– there’s a division of responsibilities, daily practice and research involved, and a bunch of people working together towards a common goal,” Bannister said. “Outside of debate, I’m pretty much like any other student. I go to class, do homework, go to the gym, hang out with friends. Sometimes it’s hard to balance debate and having a social life, but you’ve got to make sacrifices if you want to win.”

And winning, as any competitor will say, is always nice, especially when it’s earned. After ranking consistently well for years, this team definitely plans on enjoying their victory.

For Bannister, it was about the payoff.

“It feels really fulfilling to win the championship, knowing that all our efforts to this point have finally paid off…” Bannister said. “I’m a super competitive person, I hate losing, and winning it all reflects the culmination of a lot of people’s hard work and dedication but also lets me finally relax and go easier on myself with the knowledge that all the time spent practicing and researching wasn’t in vain.”

And for Trufanov, it was about fulfilling a dream. Winning the NDT had been his goal for as long as he has been debating, he said.

“The goal was especially important to me because debaters from my alma mater had appeared in the final round of the national championship four times out of the past five championships but had lost each time,” he said. “I really wanted to break the finals curse, and I’m incredibly happy that this wish came true and that I got what I came for.”

But their win was not for themselves alone. The win is also for their team, one filled with “incredibly supportive and wonderful people to spend time with, not just fierce competitors,” as Trufanov put it. It’s a group that both champions are happy to be a part of. And Garrett feels the same, especially after this year’s results.

“This season has involved the team reaching heights of competitive success the UK debate team has not reached since the years 1985 to 1995,” Garrett said. “The UK debate team did a great deal of preparation throughout the whole season and leading up to the NDT to put ourselves in a position to make such a run. The amount of endurance and dedication it takes can’t be lauded enough.”