Program History

UH students first competed in National-level speech & debate contests in 1951 – and were immediately VERY successful!!!  To say the least, competitors from other schools have ALWAYS been surprised at the ground-breaking performances given by the Cougars.  Dozens of prominent attorneys and politicians have represented UH in National competition.

A summary of the 72 years of UH accomplishments and participation follows:

1950 to 1964
The Early Years of National Achievement

UH sent its first group of students into local contests in the 1950-1951 school year.  Led by a young speech faculty member Mr. Auley Luke, the UH Team participated in speech/debate contests that were accessible by car.

However, the UH Team quickly achieved National recognition.  In the Spring of 1951, a UH Debate Team composed of Edwin Black and John Niebel qualified and competed at the West Point Nationals, the predecessor contest later renamed the National Debate Tournament.  John Niebel later became a professor at the UH Law Center and eventually became Dean of that law school.

UH continued to achieve National greatness.  In 1954, the team of Bernie Burrus and William Kilgarlin became another of a string of UH students to represent our University at the West Point Nationals.  William later served as an Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court from 1983-1988.

The greatest statement of UH’s powerful competitors was made in 1957.  It was in that year that the first woman was named Best Speaker at the West Point Nationals.  That woman was UH student Patricia (Pat) Stallings.  Pat’s only complaint was that the award given to the Best Speaker was a man’s watch – which she demanded be traded for a woman’s watch.  Pat later became a Full Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin.

1964 to 1977
The Golden Era of UH Policy Debate

UH reached a National peak in policy debate during the acquisition of a VERY talented coaching team!!!  The first National-level policy debate coach was Dr. William (Bill) B. English who came to UH in 1964.

During Bill’s time at our University, UH quickly established itself as one of the top three policy debate teams in the U.S. Some of UH’s National achievements in policy debate during these years include the following:

  • 1965 Pi Kappa National Champions in Novice Debate
  • 1969 NDT Nationals – 2nd Place Team
  • 1969 NDT Nationals – Top Speaker – David Seikel
  • 1970 NDT Nationals – 3rd Place Team
  • 1970 NDT Nationals – Top Speaker – Mike Miller

During Bill’s years at UH, he continued the groundbreaking attitude that became a common practice for our University.  Between 1972 and 1976, UH sent its first African American competitor into National competition – who also became one of the first African American students in the U.S. to compete in the highly competitive world of policy debate.
The student’s name was Sylvester Turner – who later received his law degree at Harvard University.  Sylvester has been in the Texas House of Representatives since 1988.

1978 to 1998
A Period of Major Change for UH Speech & Debate

In January 1978, the world of UH Speech & Debate was FORCED to change when its beloved coach Dr. Bill English went to Baylor University.

While many thought the UH Speech & Debate Team would suffer immeasurably, Bill’s departure signaled a major change in the events that UH students would enter throughout the U.S.  This change marked the first time that UH became a power in individual public speaking and interpretation contests – as well as Lincoln-Douglas Debate and non-policy debate.

The UH Team achieved several National rankings during this period, including the following:

  • 1981 AFA National I.E. Tournament - 17th Overall
  • 1982 AFA National I.E. Tournament – 18th Overall
  • 1994 AFA National I.E. Tournament – 21st Overall
  • 1995 AFA National I.E. Tournament – 14th Overall
  • 1996 AFA National I.E. Tournament – 16th Overall

1998 to 2002
The Four-Year Period of NO Speech & Debate at UH

Since its inception in 1950, the UH Speech & Debate Team had been housed and administered by the UH Speech Department.  It was in 1998 that the UH Speech and Debate Team ceased to exist – without a single student nor a penny of financing.

2002 to Present
The UH Speech & Debate Team
Focused on Volunteering, Hosting, and Competiting

In 2002, the current UH Speech & Debate Team rose like a phoenix and was restarted in the UH Department of Student Affairs.

The UH Speech & Debate Team NOW offers students 60+ annual events – split evenly between volunteering, hosting, and competing.

The 20+ annual volunteering events include lunches provided by the UH Team at the Star of Hope Family Transitional Center, performances at the Depelchin Orphanage, and coaching at local elementary schools, etc.
The 20+ annual hosting events include speech/interpretation contests for K-12 grade students as well as colleges/universities.  Additionally, a series of six weeks of summer speech/theatre camps are offered for students in grades 3-8.

Finally, the 20+ competing events enable UH Speech & Debate Team members to compete throughout the US, bringing National recognition to our University.

The number of individuals served by the current UH Speech & Debate Teams – at these volunteering and hosting events is over 7,000 each year.

The number of UH students who participate as members of the UH Speech & Debate Team, a.k.a. the UH Forensic Society, is 200+.

Finally, during the 1951 to 1998 years, the UH Speech & Debate Team won six National Championships/Recognitions.  Since the current UH Speech & Debate Team was redesigned in 2002, UH students have won 36 National Championships/Recognitions.

For the above reason, the staff and students of the UH Speech & Debate Team, the UH Forensic Society,  STRONGLY believe that the UH Speech & Debate Team should focus on the needs of its communities – and the result will be a much greater no. of victories in competition.