Emporia State Wins the 2013 NDT

How’s this for a Final Four:  Georgetown, Oklahoma, Emporia State and Northwestern.   No, it’s not a Final Four from the 50’s.  It’s not even a basketball tournament.  But it is a tournament, and one far more demanding on the mind and body than running up and down a court.  No, it’s not a chess match or an engineering design competition either.   Did you say baseball?  Good guess, but that would be wrong too.  DEBATE.  The National Debate Tournament (NDT) recently took place at Weber State. The final round featured a brilliant team from Emporia State University who presented an alternative interpretation of the national debate resolution to take down an amazingly talented duo from powerhouse Northwestern.

Ryan Wash and Elijah Smith made history this year by being the first African American team to win the NDT and first from Emporia State University and the first team to win two national championships in the same year – the NDT and CEDA Nationals.  They defeated the Northwestern team of Peyton Lee and Arjun Vellayappan in the final round of the NDT on a close 3-2 decision, but not in the way you might think.  As the Affirmative team, Emporia State argued that they could not and would not debate a meaningless national resolution and challenged Northwestern to examine the oppressive role policy debate plays in negating personal experience and identity as critical starting points to meaningful discussions on issues.  They feel as long as oppressive frameworks remain, their voices will not be heard, that “the personal is political” and that until the debate community understands this,  many will find no home in debate.  In Cross-X, Ryan Wash responded that we should tie “theory to the flesh”.  In a reference to the Wiz, Smith and Wash implored Northwestern to “ease on down the road together” with them.  Northwestern did not.  They argued that some framework for debate is necessary, that without topicality parameters, the Affirmative has an unfair advantage because they could talk about anything making it impossible for the Negative to be prepared.  And this strategy proved to be their undoing.

All 4 debaters finished among the top 25 in total speaker points in prelim rounds out of 156 debaters in the tournament:  Lee finished 2nd behind top speaker Andrew Arsht of Georgetown (last year’s NDT champion with partner Andrew Markoff), Wash 5th, Vellayappan 7th and Smith who recently converted from Lincoln Douglas debate to policy debate rated as the 23rd best speaker.

I did not judge the round, nor could I have, but I did read the 11 page critique of one of the judges, Scott Harris, the Kansas debate coach, who voted for Emporia State SW. It is an interesting read and it helped me understand the round better which I listened to earlier here: I have mixed feelings about the debate, as did Harris.  Like Harris and Northwestern, I believe in the importance of topicality.  And I also concur with Harris and the Emporia State University team that policy debate needs to be way more inclusive than it is.  The debate community needs to welcome discussions that tie “theory to the flesh” and allow debaters to relate to their core being to include racial, gender, class, sexual orientation, religious, ideological, political, and geographic considerations. There needs to be fewer debate cards and more clash of ideas situated in this diversity so debaters can speak directly to one another and gain new perspectives so that we can in fact one day “ease on down the road together” toward a more perfect democracy.  Debate is not a game.

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