PSU debaters hit jackpot at tournament

When Dan Adler attended his first competitive debate as a spectator five years ago, he had never guessed he’d be a finalist in a national forensics competition some day.

When Dan Adler attended his first competitive debate as a spectator five years ago, he had never guessed he’d be a finalist in a national forensics competition some day. But that day came on April 1, when Adler and teammate Eric Sanelle, both Portland State students, made it to the final round of the U.S. Universities National Tournament.

“I never thought I could accomplish that,” Adler said.

Adler and Sanelle, members of the Portland State speech and debate team, placed in the top four teams competing at the event hosted by Claremont College in Claremont, Calif., on March 31�� and April 1. Three PSU teams attended the competition.

Of the 47 teams that competed, two of the three PSU debate teams were ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Alder and Sanelle, who were ranked third after passing a preliminary round, advanced to the finals. Another PSU team, Josh Gross and Kelly Welch, ranked eighth after a preliminary round, but were knocked out before the finals.

The two PSU teams were competing against universities such as University of La Verne and Seattle University.

The third team, Rabecca Rudiwtz and Ryan Wilson, did not advance past the preliminary round. PSU was the only university that had two teams advance to the elimination rounds.

In debates like the national tournament, topics are about issues such as culture, foreign policy or politics, according to Chris Richter, graduate student and head coach of the PSU team. Four teams participate in each debate: two teams argued for and two teams argued against the topic statement.

Teams get 15 minutes to prepare before a debate begins. During the debate, teams are awarded points by a panel of judges that determined their rank in the competition.

The national tournament began with six preliminary rounds of debate. The top eight teams advanced past the first round to a series of two elimination rounds. The top four teams then competed in the final round for the title of national champions.

Adler and Sanelle are not sure of their exact ranking in the nation, because four teams compete in the final round and only one is declared the champion. Although they ended up losing in the final round, they know that they are ranked among the top four teams in the nation. Adler and Sanelle had not lost a debate during the tournament until the final round.

“Another way to spin it is that we went almost undefeated,” Richter said.

For their achievements and enthusiasm, PSU was awarded the honor of hosting the U.S. University National Tournament next year, according to Richter. The event will take place during the first week in April 2008.

“There’s going to be a lot of planning involved,” Richter said.

Members from the PSU team have attended other tournaments throughout the year. In November, two debate teams traveled to London to compete.

At the World Debating Championship in Vancouver, B.C., in November, a PSU team placed 32nd out of hundreds world-wide. At that tournament, PSU competed against some of the world’s most prestigious universities, like Harvard and Oxford.

“We do this because it is a tremendous amount of fun,” Adler said. “We get to travel and meet really interesting people.”

There are 15 active members on the PSU forensics team, but Richter said other students have come and gone throughout the year as their schedules allow. He encourages interested students to attend their Monday practices from 3 to 4 p.m., which are usually on the second floor of the Smith Memorial Student Union.

Ben Garcia, graduate student at Lewis and Clark College, is the assistant coach of the team. Richter is a former winner of the U.S. University National Championship.

“We never would have made it that far without an amazing coach,” Gross said.

Though the team is done competing for the school year, they said they are not done debating.

“We never stop,” Richter said.