Debate teams continues strong as one of oldest student organizations on campus


Rachel Rudisill

Freshman Layne Smith practices his debate speech with junior Thomas Babcock on Nov. 16 in Elliott Hall. Smith is a first year WSU debater but began his debate journey in sixth grade.

The Wichita State debate team is one of the oldest student organizations on campus, starting in the 19th century.

Located in Elliott Hall, the debate team is led by head coach Phillip Samuels and assistant coach Mia Bonitto. Throughout the team’s history, they have compiled many accomplishments including winning the 1968 National Debate Tournament. 

“All the people from [the 1968 debate team] are still very much involved, as alumni, at both the university level and at the level of the debate team,” Samuels said. “They’re our biggest supporters.”

Samuels was brought onto the debate team last year, taking the place of Jeffrey Jarman, director of the Elliott School of Communication. Jarman served as director of debate from 1996 until 2018.

According to Samuels, practices are tough to schedule due to students’ work schedules. To help accommodate the debaters’ schedules, Samuels has scheduled a class for the team that practices every Wednesday. While the team is a class, it is also an extracurricular. 

During the Wednesday meetings, the debate team preps for the weekend tournaments, which they travel to almost every week. They discuss research assignments and the general game plan and rundown of what the tournaments will look like.

The team is not limited to one day of practice a week. Students can be found in the debate room, throughout the week, setting up practice debates and assignments. 

Currently, the debate team has nine members.

“It’s really anybody who walks through the door and says they would like to start debating,” freshman Layne Smith said.

This is Smith’s seventh year as a debater. He began in middle school and hasn’t stopped since. 

“It’s kind of shaped the direction of my life,” Smith said. “I have made most of my decisions based off of if I can continue debating.”

Originally, Smith was not going to attend WSU; however, he decided to attend at the last minute due to the debate program. 

“Now, I spend a lot of hours every week in the debate room talking about legal nonsense, and reading and playing chess,” Smith said. 

Junior Thomas Babcock is also a seventh-year debater, who started at Mill Valley High School. 

Babcock, and his twin brother Travis are first-year members of the WSU debate team.

During their tournament at Northwestern University, the brothers placed in the top 32 out of 170 teams. At Kentucky, the brothers again placed in the top 32 along with Alec Hinecker and Bobby Phillips

“We debated at Johnson County Community College for two years, and then we transferred to Wichita State after Phil offered us a nice ride here,” said Babcock.

Most recently, the team competed at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Out of the four teams sent by WSU, one team finished two-four, two teams finished three-three and the final team finished four-two in the pulmonary round. 

In debate, there are six rounds before an official bracket is released. Out of the four, two teams from WSU made the bracket (elimination rounds). 

To join the team and be considered for a scholarship, Samuels can be contacted at [email protected].