Last weekend, UR’s Policy Debate team had a strong showing that included both record-setting participation and a sweep of the Junior Varsity division.
Between the Novice, JV and Open division teams, UR had 38 participants in the Huber Debate Tournament, which took place at the University of Vermont. This marks an all-time record for debate team participation in a single tournament.
In fact, according to UR Debate coach Ken Johnson, the University has one of the largest teams in the nation, with nearly 60 debaters in total. Johnson attributes this to the team’s philosophy of making debate accessible to any student who may be interested.
“I would say that collectively we have created an ecosystem where anybody, regardless of experience, can come to the debate team and if they put in the time, they will have the opportunity to compete successfully against some of the smartest debaters in the nation,” he said.
The team isn’t just becoming more popular, however — its success is also on the rise. The other major accomplishment from the weekend was that the JV teams took both first and second place in their division. In the semifinals, a UR team consisting of junior Claire Maggio and freshman Abbas Shikari defeated a team from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and another UR team composed of sophomore Vinit Akolkar and senior Nico Quijano took down rival Cornell University.
“A closeout in debate is a big deal,” Johnson said. “It represents total team success. The last time we closed out was in the spring of 2006 at Bard College, so having this was a major marker for our team.”
Additionally, the young blood in the organization is experiencing success as well, with all five of the UR’s Novice teams reaching the elimination rounds of the tournament with 4-2 records. Johnson emphasized the importance of students having success in their first few tournaments, as these can often set the tone for the rest of the season.
Additionally, freshman May Zhee Lim was named the second-best speaker in the Novice division.
At the highest level, UR’s Open teams had relative success as well, with one team making it to the elimination round, only to lose to eventual champion Dartmouth College in the quarterfinals.
“It was a nice start for the Varsity teams, but they are very competitive and were disappointed that they didn’t win the entire tournament,” Johnson said. “We’ll get Dartmouth next time around.”
UR’s newer Parliamentary Debate teams are also practicing hard and making strides, and Johnson expects them to break through at some point this year.
Johnson attributes much of UR Debate’s recent success to the hard work put in by the coaches and volunteers who work with the team, helping out with everything from skills-training to research. One of these coaches — UR alum Buddy Khan — was also honored as the “Most Preferred Judge” at the Huber tournament.
According to Johnson, however, some of the team’s greatest leadership comes from the students themselves, with experienced debaters constantly mentoring the younger members.
As for the rest of the season, Johnson is excited about the potential of this year’s team.
“Of course I want to see us win national championships at the end of the year,” he said. “We are off to a great start and have every opportunity in the world to win big at the end.”
Fleming is a member of
the class of 2013.

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