Binghamton University’s nationally ranked speech and debate team appeared for the first time in the elimination rounds at the National Debate Tournament (NDT) on Monday, March 25, an accomplishment that coach Joseph Leeson-Schatz said represents how far the team has come.

This year, James Allan, a senior double-majoring in political science and history, and Jefferey Yan, a senior double-majoring in economics and English, advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NDT, where they lost on a 3-2 decision to Wake Forest University. Additionally, Leeson-Schatz received the Ziegelmueller Award at this year’s NDT, an award given to a coach who can achieve success while making academic contributions in their field of study.

The team was originally founded when BU was known as Harpur College, and received its first award in 1964. With low participation in the late 1960s, the team re-emerged in the 1980s as a Student Association organization. Leeson-Schatz, the University’s director of speech and debate and a professor of English, was a member during his undergraduate years at BU, and said he has been present as the team has received more funding and opportunities.

“At that time, there was a small budget and no real faculty support, and when we traveled, we slept on floors,” Leeson-Schatz said. “With each move, the team received more support, and with every increase in support, we gained new levels of success.”

While attending graduate school at BU, one of Leeson-Schatz’s professors, Robert Micklus, currently an associate professor of English, offered him an assistantship to coach the speech and debate team. By moving to the University’s Scholars Program, the team was able to expand its funding. Later, the team would move to the English department and is now housed under the Center for Learning and Teaching.

Although the team has seen increases in funding and support, it has remained around the same size, with 20 to 40 members each year. Leeson-Schatz said members now perform more research themselves and the leadership effort of team members has grown. Currently, the team brings 10 to 20 competitors to each tournament, but where the team competes has changed, with members traveling longer distances and participating in larger-scale tournaments.

“While we still remain a small debate school comparative to the national average, we have grown into a regional powerhouse that is no longer seen exclusively as the underdog on the national circuit,” Leeson-Schatz said. “We have become the bearcat.”

The team has consistently qualified for the NDT through district tournaments over recent years, competing with the same teams as athletics teams verse in the America East conference. Leeson-Schatz said he was honored to receive the Ziegelmueller Award at this year’s NDT.

“Sometimes I get caught up in the day-to-day administrative duties of coaching and teaching and forget about how many people I’ve worked with over my 19 years coaching at Binghamton,” Leeson-Schatz said. “Then, seeing some of the nomination letters from alumni, it really left me speechless.”