The Binghamton University Speech and Debate team has rebounded this season after falling out of the top 10 in the nation for the first time in over a decade last season.
The team was ranked the sixth best overall debate program in the nation and the third best public debate program at the conclusion of the Cross Examination Debate Association nationals this past season, a prestigious national tournament held in Kansas City, Missouri from March 16 to March 20.
At the tournament, the team qualified for the round of 16 as they went to the elimination rounds, winning its first four meetings before losing to the Rutgers University-Newark team, which would go on to win the tournament and earn the title of the top team in the nation. In addition, Jason Smith, the president of the team and a senior majoring in computer engineering, and Thomas Buttgereit, a team captain and a junior double-majoring in history and philosophy, politics and law, were both named part of the Cross Examination Debate Association’s All-American Team.
Later, at the National Debate Tournament, the team won four rounds for the first time in its history. Held from March 23 to March 27, the tournament is a national championship for collegiate policy debate where the top 72 teams in the country face off.
Joseph Leeson-Schatz, BU’s debate coach and director of speech and debate, credited the team’s recent success largely to administrative support and funding. He claims that the team’s fall in position from the top ten came as a direct result of budget cuts during the 2015-16 season when the Student Association (SA) cut funding to the team. The SA funds a portion of the team’s budget, along with other funds from University administration.
“Without funds for an assistant coach and a consistent travel budget it is impossible to compete,” Leeson-Schatz wrote in an email. “Policy debate is both a curricular activity and a competitive sport. When you have a squad that is 20 to 30 people, and they’re all looking for five hours of meeting times per week, and people are traveling 10 weekends a year, you need an infrastructure that can support such a squad. The ability for us to enable people who have never debated before to compete while still achieving varsity success is why we end up being consistently ranked as one of the best debate programs in the nation.”
The team’s budget from the SA was restored for this season, which coincided with a return to top form.
Aside from increased funding, Buttgereit, Smith and Leeson-Schatz stated that novices Amy Williamson, a freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law, Anita Pan and Roberto Montero contributed greatly to the team’s growth. Smith claimed that the increased funding has allowed the novice debaters to accrue more experience, which Buttgereit believes will lead to a bright future for the team.
“Our team’s success is largely due to our dedicated novices this year, and all of our new debaters who this is their first season,” Buttgereit wrote in an email. “They were a really impressive group who adapted to the activity with enthusiasm and skill that allowed them to thrive at tournaments. Also important to mention is our freshman, who came in with high school debate experience and were instantly competitive.”
Williamson claimed that getting to witness the varsity debaters in action has proved to be a vital learning experience which has allowed for novice debaters like her to adapt and debate more freely and efficiently.
“I would contribute a majority of the success of the team, to the varsity members who work hard in perfecting their own arguments as well as helping others,” Williamson wrote in an email. “When watching our varsity debaters in action, like Jason Smith in his Octofinal Round at CEDA for example, I realized how much people really care about debate. Rounds like that teach me why debate is important and why I can’t wait to continue with the activity.”