LAWRENCE — The KU debate squad opened the season Sept. 17-20 with teams competing at national tournaments in Kansas City and Atlanta. The KU duo of Sion Bell and Quaram Robinson took first place at a tournament hosted by the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the KU team of Jacob Hegna and Henry Walter took third place at a tournament hosted by Georgia State University.
Quaram Robinson, a junior from Round Rock Texas, and Sion Bell, a sophomore from Baltimore, began the season where they left off last year. They ended last season finishing as the national runner-up to Harvard at the National Debate Tournament. They began this season by winning the season opener at UMKC. They defeated the University of Southern California in the final round to win the first major tournament of the year.
They rolled through the tournament undefeated, finishing with a 12-0 record. They defeated teams from Baylor University, the University of Iowa, the University of Oklahoma, Binghamton University, George Mason University, the University of Central Oklahoma, Weber State University and USC.
Robinson won the first place individual speaker award, and Bell was the sixth place speaker. The KU team of Brandon Boyce and Alondra Garcia-Arevalo, freshmen from Emporia, began their college careers by advancing to the quarterfinals in the junior Varsity division.
In Atlanta, the team of Hegna and Walter, both sophomores from Overland, advanced to the semifinals of the tournament before losing a 2-1 split decision to the University of California at Berkeley. In their run to the semifinals they defeated teams from Northwestern University, Georgetown University, the University of Pittsburgh, Emory University, George Mason University and two teams from Wake Forest University. A second KU team — Chris Fry, a sophomore from Overland Park, and Will Katz, a junior from Topeka — advanced to the final 16 of the tournament. They pulled a major upset over third-seeded Emory University to reach the final 16. There they were matched against Hegna and Walter, who advanced over them.
A third KU pair — Chris Birzer, a senior from Leawood, and Mac Cook, a senior from Shawnee — advanced to the elimination rounds before losing a 2-1 split decision to Northwestern. A fourth KU team — Amit Bhatla, a senior from Shawnee, and Saif Bajwa, a freshman from Overland Park — won five of eight debates but just missed qualifying for the single elimination rounds. Birzer was the 20th individual speaker at the tournament.
“We are thrilled at the excellent start to the season," said Scott Harris, the David B. Pittaway Director of Debate at KU. "We have a number of talented and hardworking debaters, and we have hopes for an outstanding season.”
The debate team will travel to 20 tournaments across the country between now and the National Debate Tournament in March. KU will be hosting the tournament from March 23-27, 2017 at the Edwards Campus in Overland Park. KU has qualified to the National Debate Tournament for 49 consecutive years.
Photo cutline: Sion Bell and Quaram Robinson with banner from last year's National Debate Tournament