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UH Speech & Debate Opens the Year with Top Speaker and Close Out Final

By Jillian Holden
October 17, 2022 

University of Houston Debate is off to a strong start this season at a three-day invitational debate tournament at Northwestern University in Illinois. Competing in the 57th Owen L. Coon Memorial Debates, students brought home the Top Speaker award and tournament win in the novice division and won junior varsity division in a close out final.

“Northwestern is the opening tournament of the year, and it usually sets the tenor and tone of the season to come,” Speech and Debate Assistant Director Rob Glass said. “At the end of the tournament, we were ranked third overall in the country in terms of total rounds won, and we are hoping to see where the season goes.”

The National Debate Tournament presents a specific topic to college students to be researched, analyzed, and debated on throughout the academic year. “The 2022-23 NDT-CEDA debate topic is ‘Resolved: The United States should confess legal rights and/or duties to non-human animals, nature, or artificial intelligence,’” said Hunter Foster, computer information systems major.

Freshman junior varsity members Sripad Yadagiri and Bryce Sheffield, and Foster and Parker Traxler composed the top two debate teams in the tournament’s JV division. Eliminating the final competition round due to a face-off, UH was declared victorious, and Yadagiri won third Top Speaker overall.

Prospective law student Deaunte Johnson said “This was my first debate tournament ever, and I was nervous about the amount of information I needed to grasp. However, as the days got closer, I started to get the concepts by working with my partner Saron. I studied on the plane and worked all the way up until the debate began when everything just clicked.”

Regassa and senior Johnson won the tournament in the novice division, and Johnson won Top Speaker as well. “Winning Top Speaker was almost surreal. When they first revealed it, and everyone was cheering for me, I didn’t believe it,” Johnson said. “Afterwards, people were always congratulating me for winning; it was almost like I was famous.”

The competition was divided into six preliminary debates September 17-19 followed by elimination rounds that separated into double octafinals. Students will continue to compete at tournaments across the country leading up to the national championship tournaments in March.

“Policy debate has some of the most educational opportunities out of anything I’ve ever been involved in,” finance major Sheffield said. “It trains you in research skills applicable to other areas of life, whether in classes or life itself, and it is helping me propel forward as I prepare for law school.”

UH brought more debaters to the tournament than any other college, with 14 teams total. Presenting leadership and the ability to make informed, real-world decisions relative to contemporary political issues, three teams competed at the varsity level, six teams in junior varsity, and five teams debated in the novice division.

“The team is the first, and best, friends that I have made at UH,” Sheffield said. “They are the people I hang out with, study, and the ones who keep me going. I didn’t expect that community, that support system in debate, but it is amazing. I look forward to the rest of our season.”