The Mercer University debate team began their 2021-2022 season at the Rice University Classic Sept. 25 after excelling in last year’s season.
The team placed in the top eight of the attending universities at the Classic. Debate team captain Cam Wade also placed as the seventh-place individual speaker out of 50 speakers from nine states. Vasile Stanescu, the director of the team, said that it was a good place to start in a competitive tournament.
The team will be following up on an incredible season with several wins, including Wade’s James “Al” Johnson Top Speaker Award. This award is the highest individual honor in the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA). Stanescu described the award as being the top speaker in the nation, including 21 different states and over a hundred people.
“Winning the top speaker award last year was truly wild and a moment of pure shock and awe,” Wade said. “I never thought that I would be able to do something like that, especially because when I started debate, I didn’t have a single idea of how anything operated within the game,”
Along with Wade’s win, Matt Thompson took home the Dan Hennings Award for top novice speaker, and Ashley Pemberton and Madeline Smith won the novice division along with being named as the second and third-place speakers in the novice tournament.
“It was kind of a clean sweep for Mercer. We had the top speaker in the nation, we had all three of the top speakers in novice, and we won the entire event in novice,” said Stanescu.
Wade said that while they’d like to win nationals again, they won’t be upset if it doesn’t happen. They said they believe the team’s main goal this year will be to have a good time.
Stanescu said that the team has continued to work hard as they continue preparing for this season. The team practices on a weekly basis as a minimum, along with additional practices preparing for tournaments. Stanescu and fellow professor Cameron Kunzelman, who is a former Mercer debater, work with the students to suggest books and articles to read based on their respective interests.
“We tend to win because our students actually just make smarter arguments,” said Stanescu. “That’s really the major thing that sets us apart, that’s really our secret is this sort of intense academic work that all the students do.”
Stanescu and Wade both said that the NPDA will be hosting predominantly virtual tournaments during the fall semester, but that they’ll hopefully return to in-person tournaments in the spring.
Wade encourages students interested in joining the debate team to reach out to them about being able to join.
“Debate is a unique space where you have the freedom to say whatever you want to say, and the people around you have to listen to the things that you are saying," Wade said. "I have definitely heard some interesting arguments, whether that is articulating Afrofuturism as a political project to flat earth conspiracy theories."
Wade and assistant coach Lindsey Hancock are responsible for coaching the novice students, while Stanescu coaches varsity.
“It's almost like I'm training the next generation of Mercer debaters,” said Wade. “Even though I'm the captain, that does not erase the fact that my teammates still bring very valuable and important insights that trump even my own decisions because of the fact that being on a team means relying on and looking out for each other.”
For students interested in following the debate team throughout the season, all debates are posted on the Mercer Den website. Stanescu said the debates offer a great representation for Mercer.
“The story of Mercer Debate is really a story about Mercer," Stanescu said. "We teach some of the finest students in the nation, and debate is one of the ways that we can demonstrate that."