LAWRENCE — The Kansas debate team of seniors William Katz, of Topeka, and Quaram Robinson, Round Rock, Texas, ended the fall semester with a first-place finish at the prestigious Franklin R. Shirley Classic Debate Tournament hosted by Wake Forest University earlier this month. More than 130 teams from across the country competed. The pair defeated Harvard University in the semifinals and Emory University in the championship debate.
Katz and Robinson finished the first semester as the top-ranked individual team in the country, and the KU squad as a whole is ranked No. 1 in the country in the NDT Varsity point rankings.
This was the third major national debate tournament that Katz and Robinson won this semester, having previously won tournaments at the University of Kentucky and Georgia State University. They compiled a record of 37-2 at those tournaments. The fourth tournament they competed at was at Gonzaga University, where they lost to Harvard in the quarterfinals. They were 17-1 in elimination rounds for the semester.
“This was the best fall semester for any KU team in the storied history of the program,” said Scott Harris, the David B. Pittaway Director of Debate, who has led the program for the past 27 years.
KU previously won the Wake Forest tournament in 2010, 1999 and 1986.
The latest tournament victory required KU debaters to overcome competition from the best teams in the country and physical illness, too. Their tournament began Nov. 4 with wins over teams from Missouri State University, the University of Louisville and the University of Iowa before a loss to the top team from Harvard University.
Robinson has developed an intense rivalry with Harvard over the past three years. The Harvard pair finished last year as the top-ranked team in the country and defeated Robinson in the Sweet 16 of last year’s National Debate Tournament. Two years ago, a member of the Harvard team defeated Robinson in the final round of the National Debate Tournament. This debate was the fourth time the two teams had met this year, and the Harvard win evened their record against Kansas. Katz and Robinson went into the Sunday rounds with a 3-1 record.
On Nov. 5, Katz announced that he might be too sick to debate, as he had become very ill overnight. The tournament rules allow a single debater to debate up to two preliminary debates alone, but if Katz could not debate in at least two more preliminary debates, they would have to drop out of the tournament. Katz decided that he would try to power through two debates, and the pair defeated the University of Texas and a different team from Harvard despite Katz vomiting five times during the debates. Robinson debated the final two debates by herself and notched wins over Emory University and the University of Iowa, earning a perfect score of 30 speaker points in the debate against Iowa. Katz and Robinson qualified for the single-elimination rounds with a 7-1 record and advanced as the second seed at the tournament with Wake Forest as the top seed and Harvard as the third seed.
Nov. 6 elimination rounds began with a 5-0 win over Binghamton University in the round of 32, followed by a 5-0 win over Wake Forest in the round of 16, then a 5-0 win over the University of Nevada-Las Vegas in the quarterfinals. That set up a rematch with the top team from Harvard in the semifinals. KU won on a 2-1 split decision to gain a 3-2 win edge over Harvard on the season and advanced to the championship debate, where KU defeated Emory University on a 3-0 unanimous decision that ended at 1 a.m. Nov. 7.
A second KU team of junior Jacob Hegna, Overland Park, and freshman Nate Martin, Lansing, qualified for the elimination rounds as the 30th seed at the tournament and lost to the top team from Harvard in the round of 32. They qualified for the elimination rounds by defeating the second team from Harvard, Georgetown University, Michigan State University and two teams from the University of Michigan.
The tournament recognized the top-25 individual debaters at the tournament out of the 266 competitors. Robinson received the first-place individual speaker award, while Katz placed 18th and Hegna 22nd.
Robinson expressed her thanks to Wake Forest for being incredible hosts: “I’m incredibly grateful to our coaching staff for providing us with the tools necessary to perform to the caliber we did.”
Harris echoed her thoughts, saying, “We appreciate the incredibly hard work of the graduate student assistant coaches who contribute so much to the success of the teams.”
This year’s assistant coaches include Benton Bajorek, Brendon Bankey, Ian Beier, Alexandria Chase, Michael Eisenstadt, Jyleesa Hampton, Sean Kennedy and Jacob Justice. Bankey, Hampton, Justice and Harris coached the teams at the Wake Forest tournament.
Several other KU teams have had success at tournaments this semester as well. The team of junior Julia Henry, Hutchinson, and freshman Lily Ottinger, Shawnee, advanced to the semifinals of the Joe C. Jackson Tournament hosted at the University of Central Oklahoma Nov. 3-5. Junior Chris Fry, Overland Park, and freshman Nick Massa, Prairie Village, reached the quarterfinals of the tournament. Junior Lainey Schrag, Overland Park, and freshman Gabriel Esquivel-Yglesias, Wichita, reached the octafinals, as did the team of freshmen Ross Fitzpatrick, Leawood, and Jack Ross, Overland Park. Fitzpatrick and Ross have advanced to the elimination rounds at three tournaments this semester. Several KU debaters won speaker awards at the UCO tournament. Fry was third speaker, Henry 11th, Massa 13th, Ross 18th and Esqivel-Yglesias 19th.
The debate team will begin the spring semester in early January with tournaments in California and Texas. The season will end at the National Debate Tournament, hosted at Wichita State University from April 19-23.
“We are thrilled with the success of the debaters this semester, but there is a lot of hard work ahead that begins today if we want to achieve our goals for the season,” said Brett Bricker, assistant director of debate.
Photos: At top, Will Katz and Quaram Robinson, champions of the Franklin R. Shirley Classic Debate Tournament, hosted by Wake Forest University. At right, Assistant Coach Jyleesa Hampton, Katz, Robinson and Assistant Coach Brendon Bankey. Photos courtesy of Scott Harris.