K-State debate team captures national championship


The March tournament came to a close, and one K-State duo was left standing with a national championship trophy cradled between them.

Beth Mendenhall, senior in political science and philosophy, and Derek Ziegler, junior in political science and philosophy, won the 2011 Cross Examination Debate Association’s national tournament on March 22 at Binghamton University.

“It feels great. Our debaters and our coaching staff put in extremely long hours,” said Justin Green, director of the debate team and instructor of communication studies. “The entire squad was working behind them and that is really what made the moment possible. It feels really great to affirm the belief that a broad team effort can produce a championship.”

On the way to the tournament final, Ziegler and Mendenhall, who is also a staff writer for the Collegian, had to compete in eight preliminary rounds plus finals. The competition is nothing short of grueling.

“It is essentially a March Madness Tournament in two days,” Green said. “Each debate lasts about two hours, and then judges take about 40 minutes to make a decision.”

Each year, the Cross Examination Debate Association holds a national tournament in which teams of two debate a resolution related to public policy. This year’s resolution concerned employment-based immigration visas and other potential immigration reforms. Such a topic requires extensive research and preparation.

“Before the tournament, we did a lot of research based on an analysis of who the top teams at the tournament would be and what types of arguments they read,” Mendenhall said. “We had several strategy meetings and practice debates with our coaches, and had something ready to go for each major competitor.”

In the months leading up to the tournament, the entire debate team spent hours completing research and filing evidence in addition to attending competitions.

“Members of the debate team work at least 20 hours a week on their own personal job and Beth and Derek were probably putting in 35 hours on top of that,” Green said. “We spend a great deal of time reading all of the research and we also have practice speeches and practice debates.”

Debate team members conduct research even between rounds during a tournament. One such research session actually played a big role in the final championship round.

“We won the final decision on a piece of evidence that we found 45 minutes before the debate,” Green said. “A student, Ashley Denney, who was at home at the time and not even at the tournament, was searching for anything that could help and she found the evidence which made it possible.”

Mendenhall not only had a hand in adding a national championship trophy to the debate team’s mantle, but she was also named the “Debater of the Year.”

“‘Debater of the Year’ is the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy,” Green said.

Mendenhall and Denney, senior in English, were also named first-team Academic All-Americans along with Heather Woods, senior in political science and women’s studies, and Caitlyn Reynolds, senior in history. Mendenhall and Woods were also named to the All-American team.

Despite having a team full of recognized competitors at her back, Mendenhall said she was nervous going into the final round against Towson University.

“We were really nervous before the final debate because we didn’t have a lot of unique arguments to make against Towson’s affirmative,” Mendenhall said. “Our team members at home and at the tournament collaborated to construct a unique argument that we ended up winning the debate on.”

After the two-hour final, Mendenhall, Ziegler and teammates could do nothing but wait for the final decision.

“While we were waiting for the nine judges to decide, we didn’t want to even think of the possibility that we might win, and we kept telling ourselves that getting to finals was awesome in itself,” Mendenhall said. “We were preparing to lose because Towson was objectively ranked higher than us and we were definitely the underdogs.”

March is for upsets, and Mendenhall and Ziegler were able to secure a victory on a 6-3 decision.

“My jaw dropped and my hand went to my forehead,” Mendenhall said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Mendenhall and her teammates chose to await the results together, but Green, despite spending weeks preparing his team for the debate, could not even bring himself to watch the final round.

“I was too nervous,” Green said. “I was spending some time with colleagues from other universities. In moments like that, coaches just want to assure each other that we have been successful.”

Green found solace in choosing to wait out the debate in the comfort of colleagues, but team members couldn’t help but take in the victory with Mendenhall and Ziegler.

“The entire team rushed up for a big group hug,” Mendenhall said. “As they brought us the trophy and the judges started to explain their decisions, I couldn’t keep a smile off my face.”