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Debate team rounds out quality semester

Having traveled more students than ever to out-of town tournaments, being ranked competitively against top-tier schools and jump-starting a debate program at Binghamton High School (BHS), the Binghamton University Speech and Debate team can head home happy from a successful semester.

Joe Leeson-Schatz, who has directed the team since 2001, said 49 students traveled to tournaments this year — already a jump from the 32 who traveled over the course of last year.

“We did a little more outreach this year than we have done in prior years,” Leeson-Schatz said. He said the team changed their focus from being solely competitive to being “more about the way in which we benefit the University holistically.”

The Speech and Debate team invited more students to practice and meet with coaches to improve their public speaking and debating skills, which resulted in more students becoming interested in competing, according to Leeson-Schatz.

The team reached out to help students off campus too, helping to boost the BHS debate team from three to roughly 20 students.

“Our goal is actually to have them compete this spring semester at high school tournaments,” Leeson-Schatz said.

Trevor Reddick, captain of the debate team and a junior double-majoring in English and philosophy, said he looks forward to working with the high schoolers to build their program.

“Lots of students from our team have met with [BHS] students and we are devoted to developing the infrastructure to create a great program to help integrate the local community,” Reddick wrote in an email.

Masakazu Kurihara, an international transfer student from Japan, said he heard about BU’s Speech and Debate team while studying at Ohio Northern University.

“During my study in Ohio Northern University, I researched about debate teams in U.S. and checked out the National Debate Tournament Ranking,” said Kurihara, a sophomore in the Individualized Major Program, in an email. “I figured out that Binghamton University is always ranked within top 10, and a tuition is affordable for me, so I decided to come here.”

Despite their success this semester, Leeson-Schatz said the team still struggles to remain competitive with a $40,000 to $50,000 budget, competing against schools working with a half-million dollar budget for travel alone.

“We’re very good at stretching the value of the dollar, but it means we have to make tough decisions,” Leeson-Schatz said.

He said more funding would allow the team’s varsity program to flourish without undercutting people who are looking just to gain more experience.

“Most people at Binghamton don’t have prior debate experience, which is one of the unique things about our program,” Leeson-Schatz said.

The team receives $19,000 from the Student Association, with additional funding from the BU President’s Office, the Dean’s Office, the English and political science departments and an endowment.

Leeson-Schatz said that though the team could use more support, they have been fortunate to receive the money they have from the various departments and offices.

“It is not that the University hasn’t been supportive of us,” he said. “We’re one of the few organizations that hasn’t been cut over the last few years.”

Reddick said the team works to make up the funding for the program and travel costs to tournaments, which he said can cost between $1,000 and $4,000.

“Between our tournament that we hosted in September and judging at high school tournaments we are raising about $12,000,” Reddick said.