The University of Wisconsin-Madison Speech and Debate team won their first ever Rambler on Saturday in just their second time competing in the national tournament.
The team of Ria Dhingra (English) and Zach Heintz (Economics) beat out 35 other teams, including those hailing from University of Michigan, Kansas State and Vanderbilt.
“It’s super exciting! I’m surprised we made it to the finals, let alone won, so it’s nice that our efforts paid off,” Dhingra, the tournament’s top speaker, said.
However, both of them noticed stark differences between this year’s virtual debate — hosted by Loyola University of Chicago over Discord, a platform typically targeted at online gaming — and in-person debates of years past.
“As a freshman, this is actually my first year doing debate,” Dhingra, the tournament’s top speaker, said. “However, based on my experience with high school speech tournaments, these online ones are a lot less social, more draining and tend to be a little more lax in terms of formality in dress and speaking.”
Heintz, who was the second place speaker and also a freshman, noticed some of the benefits of the online format.
“Travel logistics are a lot easier when they’re from my bed to my desk rather than from UW to Loyola,” he said. “With this comes a smaller time commitment around tournaments and lower costs, which makes debating easier.”
However, to Heintz, it was not all seamless. He said there were some glitches due to the online platform, but that the social limitations hurt the most.
“In high school, my best memories were from just hanging out before or after a debate tournament in a hotel or at some other restaurant,” he said. “Online tournaments make debating a lot simpler, but they cut out some of the soul of the tournament.”
Despite the lack of social interaction, the two made history for UW-Madison, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed by the team’s coach, AJ Carver.
“I’m proud that Ria and Zach spoke as Badger debaters should,” Carver said. “They made good arguments, used understandable evidence, spoke so that their neighbors could understand, and vigorously rebutted their opponents’ actual arguments.”
Both speakers had glowing things to say about each other and the effort that went into winning the national title.
“I love debate and I always have a great time competing with Zach,” Dhingra said. “We have a good dynamic going during practice and our other tournaments, and I find myself learning a lot from him. We have a fun way to approach prepping for an argument, which I really enjoy.”
However, Heintz felt that Dhingra deserved more praise for her performance as a first year debater and as the soul of the team.
“I think that the real achievement here is Ria, she doesn’t have three years of debate experience like I do, but she’s already a better debater than I am,” Heintz said. “She’s the soul of the debate round and she crafts what we’re saying into a clear, persuasive speech — if I play the game, she tells a story. She’s the very best debater at UW-Madison.”
The Speech and Debate team’s next competition is expected to be in the 2021 United States Universities Debating Championship, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania.