North Texas: Debate team celebrates success, looks to keep momentum throughout the spring

This semester, the UNT debate team has seen success competing in 16 state and national tournaments, placing 6th at the Texas State-Level Competition and having over a dozen members qualify for American Forensic Association and National Forensic Association nationals.

The team puts in many hours to achieve its successes, with three practices a week and tournament competitions nearly every weekend. Due to the team’s drive and ability to work together, it has become a target for other programs, Director of Debate Brian Lain said.

“I don’t want to ever take any credit for what the students are doing, it is their accomplishment, they are the ones who are putting in the incredibly long hours,” Lain said. “Their competitive success is phenomenal, but even more than that, being able to work with students and get them to see opportunities that they may not have otherwise had is important.”

This year is the team’s 120th anniversary, and despite limitations due to COVID-19, it has racked up a list of accomplishments this fall.

“As far as tournaments go, they’ve been very interesting in a COVID world,” said Co-President Gavvy Lott, a communications and political science sophomore. “I want to just stress how proud I am of my team and my debaters and speakers, they are incredible people who are nonstop working to grow as a team.”

Using an online format to participate in tournaments with teams from around the nation, the team has 13 national tournament qualifications, with individual and team placements in every tournament it has competed in.

“Every other week they come into the [General Academic Building] on campus and they are competing through this virtual platform against students they have never met before, from anywhere around the country,” Lain said. “I think it’s easy to forget how challenging it can be for the students […] In a normal college class, you might give four public presentations in a semester. They do that on just a Saturday morning.”

On top of its successes, the team fosters an environment for self-expression and community building. Philosophy and psychology junior Holden Bukowsky said he joined the team this semester and immediately fell in love with the atmosphere.

“They provided me a place where I can feel comfortable expressing myself and my views and also just bounce ideas off one another, it’s like one big family,” Bukowsky said. “We’re all very invested in making sure UNT Debate is the strongest it can be and I’m pretty confident we’ve done that so far this year.”

While this semester was busy with weekly tournaments, the team is already looking forward to the chance to compete in bigger competitions in the spring.

“I’m gonna say our biggest accomplishments have been the national qualifiers, not any one single thing, but the fact that we already have several students that are qualified for nationals that doesn’t even happen until next year,” Lain said. “I’m really excited about the spring because we’re heading towards when we get into rankings and the team is functioning together so strongly that I’m excited to see how that goes.”

Any student can join the debate team, with no experience necessary.

“We always say that the most powerful thing you have is your voice, so for me, my goal is to always create a space where people feel empowered to use that voice for change,” Lott said.