Binghamton University’s Speech and Debate team won at the Cross-Examination Debate Association’s (CEDA) National Championship hosted by the University of California at Fullerton from March 22-26, preserving their legacy as one of the top programs in the country.

The historic accomplishment comes after BU won the District Qualifiers earlier this month, with an undefeated streak of 12-0 against the likes of Cornell University and Dartmouth College — preceded by success at several other debate competitions since the start of the season. The first-place win also marks the second time an institution based in New York state has won the championship title, with the other being New York University over 20 years ago.

The partnership that led Binghamton to victory consisted of Eli Louis, a senior majoring in Africana studies, and Akif Choudhury, a junior majoring in economics. Louis and Choudhury were ranked as the second and 19th best speakers in the country at the CEDA tournament, respectively.

“A lot of time is spent practicing the clear articulation and delivery of arguments, so being able to successfully apply what we’ve practiced gives a rewarding experience,” Choudhury wrote in an email.

According to Joe Schatz, the director of the Binghamton Speech and Debate team, the University consistently competes at the national level against other programs on full scholarships and three times the coaching staff. Rather than strictly recruiting talent out of high school or participating in regional novice debate, the “underdog” program prides itself on involving members of all experience levels and backgrounds. Approximately 30 members meet with their team and coaches for hours each week, familiarizing themselves with research, strategy and skill-building often over late nights and weekends.

Schatz, who attributes Binghamton’s success to their collaborative and supportive team dynamic, elaborated on the similarities among students who join the program.

“Our students have always been incredibly clever, dedicated and hardworking,” Schatz wrote in an email. “They all have found ways to carve niches for themselves in the academic literature so that they can become an expert [in] a way that sets them apart from other teams in the country who approach debate in a more normative way.”

Binghamton’s team is divided into two sections — one oriented around the various arts of speech like poetry, prose and humor, and the other on policy debate, of which this team primarily competes in. The sections then travel to compete at different regional, national and occasionally international intercollegiate tournaments up to seven or eight times per semester.

This year’s debates focused on whether or not the United States should reduce its nuclear arsenal, a topic previously voted on by the community last May. Both BU students and their coaches have been hard at work since September, planning both basic and specific arguments for the upcoming season. During nationals, teams had to be prepared to defend either the affirmative or negative side over 14 rounds of debate averaging two hours each.

David Michael Woodward, the team’s head debate coach, explained that members completed their preliminary research on nuclear weapons and their impact on society, government and military prior to the start of the tournament, allowing the team to successfully interpret and add on to their arguments before each round.

Woodward further discussed how the team crafted their approach.

“Most if not all of our strategies were based on philosophical strategies, oftentimes discussing the racist or sexist practices that had existed in the design, use and testing of nuclear weapons,” Woodward wrote. “But there were other debates where we looked at more postmodern thinkers such as Jean Baudrillard and others.”

As they battled their way through the breakout bracket at CEDA Nationals, two of Binghamton’s teams ended up debating against each other, guaranteeing the University a spot in the final four for the second year in a row. The opportunity allowed two graduating members, Kate Marin, a senior double-majoring in psychology and linguistics, and Sonnie Picallo, a senior majoring in philosophy, to end their undergraduate debate careers on a monumental win. Marin and Picallo ranked eighth and ninth at CEDA Nationals, respectively.

Despite the intensive time and energy commitment to the team, Picallo explained how this was a fulfilling end to their Binghamton debate career after first joining during the peak of COVID-19.

“Watching the Binghamton Speech and Debate Team win one of the most prestigious tournaments of the year and ending my eight-year-long debate career in one day was a lot, but I truly could not have asked for more out of our performance,” Picallo wrote in an email.

As the team advanced to the finals after defeating CSU Long Beach, BU went up against Wake Forest who were the reigning 2023 and 2022 champions. Despite Wake Forest’s nearly 200-year old program founded in 1835, BU managed to beat them on a 5-2 decision.

This month, Louis and Choudhary represented Binghamton in the National Debate Tournament hosted at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. In recognition of the team’s achievements, Broome County Executive Jason Garnar has officially proclaimed March 25 “Binghamton University Speech and Debate Team Day.”

“It’s exciting that it all paid off,” Schatz said. “The work that Eli and Akif put in is really truly amazing. In fact, the entire squad this year were all among the best students I’ve gotten to work with over my close to two and a half decades coaching debate at Binghamton.”