What It’s Like to be A Great Debater
The University of Missouri-Kansas City debate team – runner-up to the national champions in 2017 – is one of the oldest registered student organizations on campus, dating back to the early 1950s. Director of Debate Matt Vega says within the past 30 years the team has seen continued progress and carried a standard of excellence that has earned its members top national honors.
With an average competition schedule of 12 tournaments per year, UMKC debaters have crisscrossed the nation to compete in tournaments with some of the country’s top teams. Since the New Year, the squad has participated in four tournaments – most recently at the University of Texas-Dallas – and received awards for top overall team. Hear from members of the debate team on what it’s like to be a great debater.
Antonia Scott Minha Jutt Helene Slinker
Brennan Schartz Parker Mitchell Jaedon Kroger
Kenneth Harris Madison McBratney Michael Hauschildt
Dylan Willett Matt Vega – Advisor Andy Montee – Advisor
How has being on the debate team benefitted you academically?
Dylan – Being on the debate team has made me good at writing papers. I feel like I already know which arguments I want to make, so it’s just a matter of typing it out instead of going into a lot of research. A lot of the research is already done in debate.
Brennan – Being a part of the debate team is nice when you’re going on job and internship interviews. I think my debate experience played a big role in the political internships I got this summer. I also think it makes you want to do more than just academic work. It makes you want to do community work and show other students how good debate can be. A lot of us work with Debate Kansas City, coaching and judging youth teams.
Mike – I’ve been introduced to a lot of different areas of study. It’s allowed me to discover other subjects outside of my major that I find interesting. Debate is very interdisciplinary.
UMKC Debate attracts students from across the country to Kansas City
Brennan – I looked into other schools, but UMKC offered me the most scholarship money for debate.
Parker – Debate was an important factor in my decision to attend UMKC.
Brennan – The debate teams at larger universities usually have pretty good squads and a lot of resources, but you kind of get lost in the mix of things due to the nature of their squad being so large.
Mike – At bigger schools, you almost need a reputation to go to some of the larger tournaments. At UMKC we get to go to all tournaments regardless of our status, which is very cool. Everyone here gets to debate.
Each year debaters are assigned one topic to argue. This year the topic is healthcare policy.
What are your favorite topics to argue?
Mike – The big thing for a lot of us to argue right now is policy and economic theory.
Vega – We kind of dive into different, non-mainstream economic theory.
Brennan – This year I’ve found it interesting to talk about transgender rates in healthcare today. The literature is amazing and it’s super pertinent considering the nature of healthcare debates happening these days. However, the most interesting topic I’ve ever debated was about space during my freshman year in high school.
What are your favorite highlights from the season so far?
Mike: We hosted the season opener this year. It was fun. We host the best tournaments and give the best trophies.
Brennan – We gave bottles of Gates BBQ sauce. We just changed the labels to reflect the awards. In high school you get regular trophies and plaques, but college trophies come in the form of things you can actually use. We’ve gotten stuffed animals, beer glasses, poker sets…all kind of interesting things that reflect where we’ve been.
Dylan – We had a tournament in Ogden, Utah at Weber State, and it was the first time any of us had ever seen that region of mountains.
Brennan – I had never flown on a plane until my freshman year and that was because we were traveling for a tournament.
What is the average debate season like?
Vega: An interesting thing about debate is the season is year-long. We start almost immediately when school starts and we go all the way until the end of March. Also, there are no divisions in debate. We debate everyone from Harvard to USC to KU.
Do you have any rivals in debate the way they do in sports?
Dylan – We have a few, but it’s not a squad rival. It’s individual competition between teams. Like for KU it’s always nice when we win because there’s a constant back and forth of winning and losing between us.
Mike – It’s always exciting to beat Harvard.
Brennan – It’s more than just rivalry, though. These debates also create a sense of comradery. We get to know debaters from other schools – some we know particularly well because we see them often.
What usually goes in to preparing for a tournament?
Parker: Every team in the nation posts either what they like to read, or their previously read arguments, on the internet. I compile that information into one spreadsheet, so we can see what various teams’ planned texts are and what advantages they have. From there we look to see what kind of arguments to prepare.
Vega – When Parker distributes the spreadsheet, we will know whose coming and what they’ve argued in the past. They also know what we’ve argued in the past, so we must think about our arguments and revise them to make our point more strategically powerful. We also have to think about the other teams’ arguments and what we would say in response. It takes a lot of preparation, a lot of research and reading.
Brennan: The amount we read preparing for tournaments is on par with a graduate thesis.
Does the squad usually perform well at tournaments?
Brennan: We’ve done well at almost every tournament we’ve gone to. At the UMKC tournament, which was a national tournament, we had two teams make it to finals. That is a big deal because we had a lot of good teams attend.
Since the New Year, the squad has participated in four tournaments, two of which were at the University of Texas-Dallas prior to the start of spring semester.
Vega: [the students] won the top overall team at UT-Dallas. They received a travelling trophy that we will engrave with the names of the debaters: sophomore Minha Jutt and junior Antonia Scott. Antonia was also the top speaker at one of the tournaments. Juniors Dylan Willett and Jaedon Kroger finished second-place at a recent Wichita State University tournament.
How does debate help shape your future career plans?
Dylan – I’m kind of figuring it out but I want to get into politics for sure. I have an internship in DC this summer at a lobbying firm to see whether or not I actually want to pursue that kind of career.
Brennan – Last year I interned on the campaign for a federal congressional candidate. I’m definitely looking to do something political. The internships are a start. Last semester, Dylan and I took a human rights and national security class in the political science department, and I think that, compounded with my readings on climate change due to debate topics, supercharged my desire to get into international human rights politics. Right now I plan to go to law school and study human rights law.
Mike – I want to get involved in academia a bit more. I want to go to grad school and work with debate teams in some fashion – either high school or college or land an administrative job.
Parker – I work right now as a high school debate coach, and I love working with people interested in entering in the activity. I have a passion for coaching so I think that might be where I end up. I am thinking about going into teaching.
Where do you see the future of UMKC Debate?
Parker – There are a lot of juniors and sophomores on the squad night now. I think we have plenty of potential in the next couple of years. Hopefully we get some freshmen in soon that we can build on.
Brennan – This year we have had a lot of success. The future is pretty bright in regard to attracting new members, and then in terms of the activities the squad is doing outside of debate on the collegiate circuit. There have been talks of starting a high school tournament on our campus. It’ll be a national tournament, which would bring a lot of recognition to the squad.
Vega – One of the things I think this squad benefits from is that almost everyone was around last year to see what goes into contributing to a very successful team.
The team has a few more tournaments left this year, and then they will start almost immediately getting ready for next year. Debate members say the 2018-19 season will be a big year given the amount of seniors they will have on the squad.