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Debate team wins national championship for second-straight year


The Simpson College debate team is on top again.

For the second year in a row and third time in four years, Simpson won the Pi Kappa Delta National Debate Championship, held March 20-24 at Hofstra University in New York. As a whole, the program garnered its highest overall finish in team history in combined speech and debate sweepstakes, placing third. The speech team also had its best finish, taking ninth. 

Among Simpson’s top individual performances were national champions Kelli Ruth and Foxx Harrington (Open Parliamentary Debate) and Michael Roets and Geoffrey Van Deusen (JV Parliamentary Debate). 

For head coach Spencer Waugh, this year’s win was surprising compared to the 2018 championship. The competition was stiffer and a few events didn’t fare as well in the preliminary rounds.

But when it counted most, his team stepped up.

“I’ve been coaching debate for 20 years and we’ve never done as well on the final day of competition as this team did,” Waugh said. “We only lost two debates. I’ve never coached a team that did that well.”

The debate team finished on top of a field of 77 colleges and universities across the country, besting powerhouse Boise State University for the championship. 

As the final standings were announced, Sarah Baker feared the team may not have even placed in the top 10. Then Simpson’s name was called.

“It was really shocking but we were all super ecstatic,” said Baker, a senior from Omaha, Neb. and member of the team for all three debate national championships. “It was a really good note to go off on, especially to win the title two years in a row.”

The debate win spoiled a possible sweep for Boise State, which won the speech competition and the combined speech and debate sweepstakes. Over the years, a rivalry has grown between Simpson and Boise State. Simpson first won the debate championship in 2016, then Boise State won in 2017 before Simpson’s back-to-back titles.

“It’s always fun when a school our size beats Boise State,” Waugh said. “I imagine they were disappointed when they did not sweep both speech and debate. They have a very strong program.”

From humble beginnings

The growth Simpson’s speech and debate program has experienced under Waugh has been nothing short of amazing. The program formed just eight years ago with a handful of students and didn’t compete at its first national championship until 2013. Since then, the team has developed both depth and a reputation as one of the best in the country.

“It was hard to imagine a school the size of Simpson being able to compete at a national level,” Waugh said. “Those first few years, we were only traveling with four, five, six students and competing in a single style of debate.”

Seeing Simpson among the top teams may have been a surprise in the early years, but that’s not the case anymore. 

“We are now known as a force to be reckoned with on the circuit,” Baker said. “People know we aren’t an underdog anymore.”

Waugh built the program from the ground up, using previous national championship teams as a model for success. He began recruiting aggressively to fill entries for all seven debate formats while continuing to strengthen the speech program. 

Now, the strength of the team lies in its depth, a rarity for a school Simpson’s size. 

“What sets us apart is we have a comprehensive program and we do multiple styles and formats of debate as well as having a speech team,” Waugh said. “It’s unusual for a school of our size to have a comprehensive debate program.”

Team-first mentality

The speech and debate season is long and grueling. The team begins practice in August, meeting twice a week until PKD Nationals in late March.

From day one, Waugh stresses a team-first mentality to his team.

“Starting with the very first team practice, we make it known that our goal is to win as a team first, then individual success is second,” he said.

Particularly in debate, it's easy for individuals to get lost in the success of their two-person teams. But when the team buys in, the results show through national championships.

“The willingness to work together for that common goal is something that I see works better with our team than a lot of other teams on the circuit,” Waugh said.

While winning is great, Baker—an undergraduate assistant coach for public forum debate—points out that Waugh’s coaching philosophy goes beyond tournament success.

“He tells you it’s okay if you don’t win as long as you come out of each tournament as a better human being, that’s what really matters.”

Baker chose Simpson over Drake University and Creighton University because of the speech and debate program. She’ll miss being a part of the team, though, to her, it goes beyond that.

“It’s cheesy to say it’s a big family, but it really is.”

Debate Award Winners

National Champions, Open Parliamentary: Kelli Ruth & Foxx Harrington
National Champions, JV Parliamentary: Michael Roets & Geoffrey Van Deusen
National Runner-up, Novice LD: Kylie Doupnik
Semi-Finalists, Public Forum: Danielle Blake & Coby Berg
Excellence, Novice IPDA: Kylie Doupnik
Excellence, Discussion: Faithyna Leonard & Belle Ward & Bobbi Fogle
Excellence, Public Forum: Casey Spring & Andrew Dunn & Sarah Baker & Miranda Jean Sebastian
Quarter-Finalists, JV Parliamentary: Kimberly Roberts & Andrew Dunn
Excellence, Novice Parliamentary: Noah Trujillo & Eimear Fanthorpe
Student Congress Presiding Officer Award: Bobbi Fogle & Lexy Moran
Superior Senator: Bobbi Fogle
Speech Awards
Excellence in ADS: Melanie Gillet
Excellence in Broadcast Journalism: Sarah Baker
Excellence in Duo: Taylor Williams & Douglas Roberts
Superior Events Showcase (Duo): Douglas & Taylor
Excellence in Interview: Elise Sturgeon, Lydia Magalhaes, Lexy Moran, Bobbi Fogle