The University of Texas at  Tyler Magazine - Spring 2011

UT Tyler Team’s Dominance Not Debatable
University Debaters Take Lead in National Competitions

UT Tyler Debate TeamIn a formal debate, hearsay and assumptions will get you nowhere. Persuasive evidence wins the argument. 

With that in mind, here is one fact that cannot be disputed – The University of Texas at Tyler debate team is among the best in the nation. It’s a statement bolstered by incredible statistics for the 2010-2011 season: 

  • The UT Tyler team has ranked as high as fourth among more than 350 collegiate teams across the nation.
  • Debaters Alex Warren of Tyler and Travis Smith of Palestine achieved a new national record for most wins in a season – 71, the most by any team in the history of parliamentary debate. They also maintained an 80 percent win-loss percentage, one of the best in the country. 
  • In fact, the UT Tyler team won more debates than any other team has even debated (both wins and losses) this season. 

UT Tyler Debate Team members“We have been very successful this year. In a sense, this has been our breakout year,” said Dr. Charles Walts, director of forensics and assistant professor of communication. He said the program has catapulted to unprecedented success in the past few years since making the leap from a more regional focus to national competition. 

“In 2007, the team was ranked close to 300th in the nation. Once we moved to national competition, our ranking changed from roughly 300 to 54th last year,” he said. “And now, our leap into the top 10 is quite an accomplishment.” 

Concluding the 2010-11 season with events in Colorado this spring, Warren and Smith finished in the top half of competitors in the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence in Denver and in the top 10 at the National Parliamentary Debate Association’s National Championship Tournament in Colorado Springs. At the Denver tournament Smith also received an award as the 12th best speaker, and UT Tyler debaters Addison Gribbon of Ennis and Michael Jones of Paris finished as the top freshman team. 

Road to Success

Dr. Walts said the journey has included many hours of research, practice and travel. 

“We spend upwards of 30-40 hours a week working on debate. When we travel to tournaments, this amounts to missed class and time away from family and friends. The debaters have to be good at scheduling their time and prioritizing their class work so that they do not miss important assignments,” he said. “In some ways, it’s a sacrifice to be on the team because of the amount of time it takes, but the debaters know that the time pays off in satisfaction and knowledge only gained in debate.”

UT Tyler Debate Team students preparing

Excellence comes with a price, but it is one UT Tyler debaters say they are willing to pay for the benefits. 

“I enjoy the intellectual activity of it, being able to think on your feet,” Smith, a junior communications/political science major, said. “I enjoy the research side of it as well and enjoy learning about a multitude of issues.” 

Warren, a junior economics major, said, “There are a lot of very overt trade-offs, usually in terms of time. I feel like most students are making similar decisions, just with different factors. Everybody picks what they want to prioritize and works from there. I expect to do well at things I spend time on, or else I wouldn’t bother. So far, I’ve seen that kind of return on the investment as we continue to improve.” 

Both debaters said the discipline is preparing them for success later in life. Warren said he is interested in a consulting

UT Tyler Debate Team students working

 career, which has many of the same elements as debating – “it requires you to have a broad knowledge of disparate concepts, but also demands intense periods of specialization as you focus on a particular problem.” 

Smith said the rigors of research and learning how to effectively communicate supports his goal of working for a

 government body like an intelligence agency. 

“Debate teaches critical thinking and research skills that are valuable to just about any profession,” Dr. Walts said. Debaters become comfortable reading complicated literature and hard-to-grasp concepts. They learn presentation and argumentation, as well as research skills, he added. 

“Debaters find that the research skills and confidence they gain in themselves provides them with the ability to take risks and make better decisions,” Dr. Walts said. “Debate teaches mental flexibility that is not learned anywhere else and pays off in the ability of a debater to converse intelligently about a number of subjects.” 

Keys to Success 

So, how do you go from a 300 ranking to fourth in the nation? Dr. Walts and team members say it starts at the top. 

“The support we receive from the administration is unprecedented,” Dr. Walts said. “The support of administration helps me bring in excellent high school debaters, which provides us with a competitive advantage. Second, we travel to the most competitive national tournaments and debate against the best teams in the nation. Doing this provides us access to the trends and talent of other programs that we have to beat to win a national championship.” 

Dr. Walts said the UT Tyler debate team wins are not only a reflection of the students’ hard work, but also the academic prowess of the university. 

“The team cannot be successful without successful academic programs to educate the debaters. I am very excited and proud that the debaters excel in both debate and their majors not because they are great debaters, but because they have excellent professors who educate and challenge them,” he said. 

Warren agreed. “Our professors have overwhelmingly been supportive and flexible, without which we would have trouble traveling as extensively as we have. Dr. Walts is uniquely skilled in identifying our weaknesses and letting us know how to fix them in the most efficient way possible. I’m also increasingly impressed with his motivational abilities, something our graduate assistant, Jordan (Innerarity), shares. I’m glad I get to enjoy something I also excel at, and Dr. Walts and Jordan are a major reason.” 

One other reason for UT Tyler’s success is having the right players. Debate is no less competitive than a sport like football or baseball. That means recruitment is a vital foundation for the team.

“Debate, like any competitive activity, requires a set of skills,’’ Dr. Walts said. “When I recruit debaters, I take the same approach that an athletics coach does recruiting. I travel to high school debate tournaments and talk to seniors and attempt to convince them to visit the campus.”

When Dr. Walts recruited Smith and Warren, they had already enjoyed wins as a team on the junior college level. Both also debated in high school. “I came to UT Tyler because of the debate team,” Smith said. 

Building on Success 

UT Tyler Debate Team StudentsRecent successes have only created a greater appetite for winning in the team, said Dr. Walts. “We want to continue traveling to the best tournaments. Continued travel to these tournaments is critical to our plans to win a championship.’’ 

Another goal of the program is to make debating more accessible to a wider range of students at UT Tyler . . . and even to the community. 

“I would like to expand the scope of the team to provide a service for those students who want the experience of debate, but cannot dedicate several weekends to travel,” Dr. Walts said. “I also want to start a public forum to debate local and national issues on campus so that the public can participate in the debate.”

2010-2011 UT Tyler Debate Team

Guided by Dr. Charles Walts, director of forensics and assistant professor of communication, the team includes:

  • Jordan Innerarity of Lindale, graduate assistant;
  • Alex Warren of Tyler, junior economics major;
  • Travis Smith of Palestine, junior communication/political science major;
  • Michael Jones of Paris, freshman accounting major;
  • Addison Gribbin of Ennis, freshman English major;
  • Andrea Lightcap of Elkhart, sophomore business marketing major;
  • Matt Daughtrey of Ennis, sophomore marketing major.

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 Last Published 5/3/11