Undebatable: National Champions!

Having qualified for a bid to participate in the national championship tournament, it was one week out and they were short on cash to fund the trip, despite their efforts to raise funds by washing cars and knocking on doors of local businesses. At the last minute when the trip seemed doomed, they got lucky. An alumnus of the debate team heard of their plight and donated the additional $1,000 needed for the team to attend the International Public Debate Association Tournament. Leveraging brain power, teamwork, elbow grease, and raw determination, the team hit the road primed to win.

The completely student-run team brought down competitors from around the country, including many well-funded programs with multiple coaches. Among them were Boise State, West Point, Middle Tennessee State, the University of Arkansas, and Louisiana State University.

The UT team was declared the National Championship Tournament Scholastic Sweepstakes Champions, Founders Sweepstakes Champions, and Overall Sweepstakes Champions. David Monghi was Varsity IPDA National Champion.

This list of national awards caps the dozens of awards the team won over the course of the entire year. The team also won a variety of runners-up honors and season-long awards.

“The national championship titles represent our crowning achievement as a team,” said Robert Spencer Hinton, 2014 president and team coach. “Our team has steadily improved since it was revived in 2008 and we’ve attended dozens of tournaments and brought home hundreds of awards over the past five years. The team’s success in the national competition is a testament to the tremendous commitment and investment of each member as we have worked together to strengthen and rebuild the team. Our hard work really paid off!”

Emalie McMahon affirms the solidarity of the team in preparing for the competition. “I didn’t do well in my first tournaments at the beginning of the year, but peer coaching helped me improve and I benefitted greatly from working closely with teammates Spencer Hinton and Chris Thomas-King.” At the national tournament, Emalie competed in the Novice Division and won second place, helping the team accumulate extra points to qualify for the national championship.

Hinton and his teammates have been attending freshmen orientation sessions on campus this summer talking with students about the UT Debate Team. “More than sixty incoming students have expressed interest so far,” Hinton said. “Recruiting students to the debate team is an easy sell, particularly when my teammates and I speak passionately about the many benefits we’ve experienced.” According to the International Debate Education Association (International Debate Education Association, http://idebate.org/, July 7, 2014), the process of debate hones critical thinking skills and develops effective communication skills. Debating also affords opportunities for students to engage in independent research and teamwork. All of these skills are valuable in academic life and in the workplace.

Becoming engaged in an organization like the UT Debate Team can also enhance student success and retention. Emalie McMahon can attest to that. “I joined the UT Debate team at the beginning of my freshman year and I was immediately welcomed into the tight-knit group which gave me a feeling of belonging here,” she said.

Debate team members who attended the recent competition were:

  • Patrick Hanlon, a freshman in English and political science
  • Emalie McMahon, a freshman in psychology and biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology
  • Alex Nunley, a freshman in political science
  • Sam Ruwe, a freshman in psychology
  • Brandon Carpenter, a junior in political science
  • Rachel Guffey, a junior in political science
  • Nichole Indelicato, a junior in biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology
  • David Monghi, a junior in public relations and political science
  • Tom Overton, a junior in psychology
  • Abel Taherkeli, a junior in economics and political science
  • Jeff White, a junior in political science and sociology
  • Ediobong Ebifung, a senior in political science and global studies
  • Robert Spencer Hinton, a senior in history
  • Christopher Thomas-King, a senior in English and philosophy
  • Suzanne Lamb, a senior in philosophy
  • Nathan Johnston, 2012 UT graduate who competed in Professional Division which is the alumni category

Alumni Rally to Support the UT Debate Team


Dr. James Russell Church

Several members for the 1980’s University of Tennessee Debate Team have worked together to create a new endowment to both honor their former coach and friend. The “Dr. James Russell Church Debate Endowment” was created in 2013 to provide funds to assist the recently re-established UT Debate Team. Annual earnings from the endowment will be used to help allow the team to travel and pay tournament entry fees.

Scott Carpenter debated for UT from 1981 to 1985 and was one of the first to join in establishing the endowment.

“Debate is such a fundamental learning activity that every university should have a team, Carpenter said. “It was inspiring to learn of UT students reviving a competitive debate society with no financial support. When Dr. Church’s students from the 1980’s learned of this, we wanted to help and to create a long-lasting foundation for support of the team.”

Currently the fund has gifts and pledges of just over $65,000. Debate alums are aiming to get the fund up to a minimum of $250,000. Discussions are currently underway with friends and UT debate alums from other decades to garner additional support for the fund.

If you would like to make a gift to the “Dr. James Russell Church Debate Endowment” you may contact Development Director and UT debate alum, Holly Jackson-Sullivan at 865-850-0356 or email hsullivan@utfi.org. Donors are also encouraged to consider making a planned gift to the fund by either including a specific asset, dollar amount or a percent of their estate to the fund.