More than 139 debate teams from 50 colleges and universities descended upon Binghamton University as the weekend spring break commenced to participate in the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) national championships, marking the first time BU has hosted CEDA Nationals. It was also the first time in over a decade that the tournament was held at a school in the Northeast.
CEDA is “the primary national association promoting policy topic intercollegiate academic debate,” according to the organization’s website. The topic of this year’s tournament was human trafficking.
The tournament at BU lasted from Friday, March 18 to Tuesday, March 22. Kansas State won the competition, defeating Towson University in a 6-3 decision in the final round.
BU’s team, the 10th seed out of the 139 teams in the tournament, was made up of senior debate team members Bill Sebelle and Peter Fountain. The pair made it to the quarterfinals, where they were defeated by long-time debate rival Liberty University.
Binghamton Debate is led by Joseph Leeson-Schatz, the director of speech and debate in the English, general literature and rhetoric department; Guy Risko, the team’s head coach; and Jen Sweeney and Lauren Cameron, the assistant coaches.
“Peter and Bill’s achievement represents the furthest Binghamton has ever advanced at CEDA Nationals and ranks them within the top eight two-person teams in the nation,” Leeson-Schatz said. “Peter Fountain was ranked as the 17th best speaker out of a pool of 278 debaters, which represents the highest individual achievement Binghamton has received at a national tournament. Meanwhile, Ann Kossachev was named part of CEDA’s first Academic All-American Team.”
Sebelle, a senior majoring in accounting, described the accomplishment as “one of the biggest” of his debate career.
“I am extremely proud of how we performed,” he said. “Our performance is the culmination of a lot of hard work and commitment from several individuals. The success we achieved is a sign that Binghamton Debate is a rising star that I hope the University continues to acknowledge and support.”
Peter Fountain, a senior majoring in environmental studies, echoed this sentiment.
“It’s tough not to be disappointed with anything less than first place, but we were pleased with how the team came together at the end of the season to make this push,” he said.
Michael Davis, president of CEDA and a debate coach at James Madison University, noted the significance of the tournament being held at Binghamton University.
“We haven’t had a Northeastern school host the tournament since 1998,” he said. “Debate is back to this area.”
According to Leeson-Schatz, hosting the tournament benefited both the University and Binghamton community.
“We also received several news stories on the event that helped promote BU to the local community, which benefited from all the revenue we helped bring in to the Southern Tier,” he said.
Ann Kossachev, president of Binghamton’s debate team and a junior double-majoring in political science and economics, agreed that hosting the tournament was significant for BU.
“There were hundreds of students and coaches that brought an estimated $60,000 in revenue to the greater Binghamton area,” she said.
Davis said BU was picked over other schools because of its facilities and the support from the University.
“We were able to submit a competitive bid to host because [former] President [Lois] DeFleur allocated additional money to help us bring the event to Binghamton,” Leeson-Schatz said.
M.L. Sandoz, the director of debate at Vanderbilt University and former president of CEDA in 2004, also praised BU’s debate team’s reputation.
“I know Binghamton because of debate … Binghamton has a wonderful squad,” Sandoz said. “It’s impossible to be in the debate community and not know who they are.”
According to Leeson-Schatz, the tournament cost $17,000, with Binghamton Debate contributing $10,000 and CEDA about $7,000. The $10,000 that Binghamton Debate contributed consisted of roughly $5,000 allocated from the president’s office, $2,000 from regional fees and $3,000 that the team saved from not having to fly somewhere else for the tournament.
“We were picked because we represent the heart of CEDA’s mission,” Leeson-Schatz said. “We cultivate a strong novice program that began as an entirely student-run program until gaining administrative support that has produced top-level varsity debaters in a short period of time. We’ve been ranked in the top 10 for the past six years in a row.”
Adeze Ajoku, a freshman majoring in English at the University of Miami, said her first impression of Binghamton was that it is “very green.”
“We run a green tournament since we attempt to go waste-free and only distribute things that can be recycled or composted,” Leeson-Schatz said. “We composted a lot which at other tournaments would have gone straight into landfills.”
The tournament also raised over $9,000, which will be donated to Girl’s Education & Mentoring Services (GEMS) and to NOW-NYC, both of which are anti-human trafficking organizations.
“Hosting CEDA allowed us to show the national debate community that not only are we among the best competitively but also among the best hosts since we do more than simply provide rooms,” Leeson-Schatz said. “Rather, we create the awareness and possibility for the debate community to have a lasting impact on the world, whether it be from decreasing our ecological footprint or it being from fighting human trafficking instead of just debating it.”
This is the sixth year in a row Binghamton Debate ranked in the top-five teams in the nation for the season.
“I am pleased since starting this year we’ve placed an emphasis on education on traveling to more competitive national tournaments instead of just dominating the regional circuit,” Leeson-Schatz said. “We also had to overcome [Financial Council] giving $4,000 less this year than last year to finish out our season.”