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Monday, June 24, 2024

Courtesy of Shanone Tejada

UW-Madison Speech and Debate Team wins first national championship in decades

The winning team competed in the Yaatly Online Debating League National Debating Championship in Denver earlier this month, winning the entire competition.

Earlier this month, the Wisconsin Speech and Debate Society competed at the Yaatly Online Debating League (YODL) National Debating Championship tournament in Denver, ultimately winning the entire championship tournament. 

The winning team — made up of senior William Darbyshire and junior Zachary Heintz — is the first in decades to win the championship for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Everyone went silent waiting for the final announcement, and then when hearing, ‘The winner is UW-Madison,’ everyone exploded,” Darbyshire said. “If the other teams hadn’t heard ‘Jump Around’ before then, they definitely did then because it was blasted on.” 

Four years ago, Wisconsin Speech and Debate was not competing in any tournaments of this nature, team coach A.J. Carver said. But it has grown since then.

“It’s something we’ve been building over the last four years,” Carver said. “In the course of four years, we’ve gone from basically nothing to winning the national tournament.”

According to Darbyshire, in the debate league, there is a series of smaller online tournaments that lead up to the national championship tournament, where everyone comes together in person.

“It was great to connect with people from other schools — your opponents — to debate in a way that you wouldn't if it was online,” Darbyshire said.

At the national championship, Darbyshire and Heintz competed against 64 teams representing 17 other universities across the country. 

In the final round, they competed against teams from the United States Air Force Academy, Regis University and the University of Alaska-Anchorage. Even with ample competition, Darbyshire and Heintz managed to win the championship for UW-Madison.

“I think it showed how rigorous and valuable the culture of debate we built at Madison is,” Darbyshire said. “I’m really proud of what we know.” 

Carver emphasized that although Heintz and Darbyshire deserve individual credit, winning a national championship is a team effort.

“It takes the whole team to win,” he said. “Each debate requires four teams to practice, so we need at least six other members. Fortunately, we have more than that — to practice — and it takes a lot of support from donors, so a team effort.”

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Two other teams from UW-Madison also competed in the national championship. Neither of the teams broke the top 16, but both were close. Each held eight points each, which Carver said is a good sign for the future. 

Though Carver is not coaching next year, he believes he is leaving the team in good hands and on an upward trajectory. 

“We got [a new coach] who I believe will be quite good and will be able to build on this tradition,” he said. 

Carver encourages students to join the debate team — even if they do not have prior experience.

“We’re open,” he said. “I think some people have this misconception that you have to have done speech and debate in middle or high school. That’s not true, and [Darbyshire’s]’s case really demonstrates that. You can show up with almost no experience and go from zero to hero in the debate context.”

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