INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
Campus home to top-ranked debate team
By : Rachel Coker
Binghamton’s Speech and Debate Team continues to dominate its competitors, with another first-place ranking following a tournament held on campus last weekend.
The team played host to the Northeast National Debate Tournament Qualifier, welcoming more than 150 debaters from schools such as Dartmouth University and New York University.
Binghamton’s debaters have made dramatic improvements in the past several years, said Joe Leeson-Schatz, director of debate and a doctoral candidate in English. When he joined the team in 2000, it was ranked 128th, he said. In the past three years, it has consistently been in the top 10 in the country.
Just three of Binghamton’s 20 current debaters had experience at the high school level before coming to campus, which makes the team’s performance even more impressive. Many top debaters began in fifth or sixth grade.
Debating requires research skills and an ability to talk quickly (if that’s the right term for someone saying 400 words per minute) and listen and respond to others who are speaking that fast.
College-level debaters work in teams of two and debate the same topic all season long. This year’s topic deals with how to engage the Middle East constructively. Debaters consider policy questions and detailed sub-topics such as the Iranian nuclear issue.
The speech team focuses more on presentation than on speaking quickly, explained senior Dana Stecker, a former team president.
In a speech tournament, different rounds have different styles. One student often competes in multiple formats, ranging from dramatic readings to extemporaneous speeches.
“You’re looking for someone who’s extremely polished,” Stecker said, with fluid, purposeful movements and solid, up-to-date content.
Debaters at Binghamton meet for eight hours per week, in addition to half-hour daily speed drills and five or more hours of research each week. The team participates in about 15 tournaments, which run all weekend. Debates last two hours; one tournament might have six to eight preliminary rounds and another four or five elimination rounds.
The speakers have a lighter tournament schedule but spend as much as 12 hours a week in meetings and practicing.
Binghamton’s team does more with less, Leeson-Schatz said. The Speech and Debate Team has a combined budget of about $30,000. That compares with about $500,000 for debate alone at Liberty University, now ranked second nationally.
Debaters and speakers often go on to legal careers, though many put their skills to use in other fields, including politics, marketing and accounting. Binghamton speech and debate alumni often return to campus to judge competitions; some make donations to support the team or even send books they think might help current debaters in their preparation.