Debate is back

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USU Eastern’s debate team (College of Eastern Utah) was powerhouse on the regional and national circuit for decades. Under the direction of one of the most renowned debate coaches in the nation for 32 years, Neil Warren, CEU accumulated regional and national recognition.


At the peak of the debate team (1991), Warren and his students won 272 team and individual trophies, which Warren called a phenomenal record. Building upon this winning pedigree, Jeff Spears, who debated fro CEU and Southern Utah University, announced that USU Eastern will have a debate team fall semester 2015.


“We hope to restore the competitive tradition at Eastern, while providing an opportunity for students to receive a quality education,” Spears said.


The return of the debate team next year at USU Eastern is as good of a time as any, he said. Students on the debate team would make an immediate impact on the overall enrollment growth for USU Eastern and assist the college with meeting the Four-in-Four Initiative.


In Spears’ recent emails with the debate coach at Weber State, Omar Guevara wrote, "Utah is currently the second best state in the West for competitive high school debate, only behind California."


In terms of overall numbers, Spears been in contact with several coaches in the state regarding adding talent for the first year of the team. Many of his contacts are former members of the renowned CEU program who are coaching at all levels of debate.

During a recent meeting of the Utah Debate Coaches Association (UDCA), the local body for competitive high school forensics, 100 percent of speech and debate coaches in attendance agreed that another competitive college program in the state of Utah would do much to support this valuable activity, and would give high school coaches another option in which to refer their talented students.


The debate coach at Bingham High School, Carol Shackelford, noted, "Every year, Rowland Hall, Bingham, Lone Peak, Juan Diego, Highland, West, and countless other high schools, matriculate students to out-of-state colleges who would otherwise attend USU Eastern. These students have strong academic skills, are intellectually curious, and active in their community. I know that a strong forensics program at your institution would serve as a magnet for high quality undergraduate students."


In terms of the quality of students, debate programs attract and retain college-ready students to universities nationwide. These students excel not only in debate competitions, but also the classroom.


In the letter of support for Eastern's Forensic Team from debate coach at the University of Utah Michael Keith Mickelson wrote, "The National Association of Urban Debate Leagues (NAUDL) has recently reported that high school students who participate in speech and debate are three times more likely to reach ACT CollegeReady benchmarks in reading and language skills than their non-debating peers, and are three times more likely to enroll in and complete a bachelor’s degree program than their non-debating peers."


Moreover, forensic college students maintain excellence in the classroom alongside their commitment to debate responsibilities. Mickelson continues, "The same NAUDL study found that college debaters are three times more likely to gain entrance to graduate, law, or professional school than their non-debating peers."


Although there is not a debate major at USU Eastern, the quality of students a debate team can produce result in more demanding professions at four-year institutions. According to scholars Ronald Matlon and Thompson Briggers, students who participate on speech and debate teams become, disproportionately, the most successful business, political, communication and legal leaders.


Lastly, the return of the debate team marks an exciting time at Eastern. With enrollment on a rise and the biggest freshmen class ever, USU Eastern is committed to increasing services and programs to students. Much like soccer, the debate team will create a new market for recruiting students to Eastern, while simultaneously helping retention efforts. As a former debate member at Eastern, Spears said the revival of the program is a chance to restore the college to the national scene and create a sense of belonging for future debate students.

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