Debate team argues its way to nationals

By Hayes Gardner

A UK team has debated its way to a national tournament and will compete next week against some of the toughest teams in the nation.

The UK debate team, composed of half freshmen and half veterans, will participate in the National Debate Tournament at the University of Texas at Dallas.

The duo of Sohin Gautam, a political science senior, and Christian Steckler, an undeclared freshman, make up UK’s two-person team and will represent UK in the 78-team tournament.

Throughout the season, UK has debated across the region at Harvard, Wake Forest, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Emory, Liberty and at UK. The season culminates in Dallas next week.

The topic of debate for the entire season has been immigration policy.

To reach nationals, Gautam and Steckler finished among the top six in the regional tournament at Emory University.

At nationals, each pair competes eight times in three days of preliminary debates.

All teams with a 5-3 record or better advance to the elimination tournament field of 32.

To prepare for nationals, or any tournament, debaters must practice debating, as well as strategize. Debate coaches prepare the team by going over lines of attack prior to competition.

“Like basketball, the coaches draw up plays and map strategies,” UK Coach Dave Arnett said.

During the season, which lasts from September to March, the team practices about twice a week—once to actually practice debating and the other to go over strategy.

Since the teams debate the same topic the entire season, they get to know the subject well.

Prior to each tournament, the team works on new arguments, altering what went poorly and keeping what worked well. This balance of practice improves the debaters’ skills.

“Through debate, I’ve learned to become a better speaker and researcher,” Gautam said.

Each team across the country posts their arguments on an online site that all teams can access, so it is easy to prepare for opposing teams’ points.

“We have to read (the online site) religiously; we have to always be on top. You can’t afford to fall behind,” Gautam said.

The coaches and debaters both enjoy the competition debate provides.

“I enjoy the never-ending season of competition,” Arnett said. “It’s an educational thrill to work with such bright students.”

Andrea Reed, the director of debate, also talked about why she likes debate.

“I get to play a game for my job … I love the activity,” Reed said.

The National Debate Tournament starts in Dallas on March 25 and concludes on March 29.