There’s a team on campus that is number two in the nation. There’s a team on campus that ranks in the top 15 among university names such as Oxford, Cambridge, Yale and St. Andrews.
That team is the Seawolf Debate team who are currently celebrating their new listing as the 11th university debate team in the world.
“It feels awesome,” junior and Seawolf Debate team member Brett Frazer said.
The Seawolves only lag behind one American team, their rival Yale, who is number three in the world. And again, UAA beat Harvard, who fell to 26th place this year. The rankings are based on the last five years of performance at the World Universities Debating Championship. This year, that tournament took place in Africa, where the Seawolf Debate team found much success.
“It was my first world’s when I went. But I felt both honored and admittedly a little frightened to debate against teams from Oxford, from Cambridge, from Sydney Union,” Frazer said about the World Universities Debating championships.
Frazer added that the practice rounds the Seawolf Debate has every Friday are on par with elimination rounds at the world tournament. And those practice rounds can be brutal, as junior Megan Rodgers said.
“It’s really cool because we get demolished in our practice rounds since we’re new debaters but that’s because everyone is really, really good,” Rodgers said.
Director of Forensics Steve Johnson, who is also a professor at UAA, said the hardest part of coaching a world-class team is the time commitment it requires of students.
“Convincing people that they should give up everything for a singular focus on debating as the overwhelming and overriding experience of their undergraduate career,” Johnson said.
Part of that time spent required six teams to travel to Vermont the last weekend of March to participate in the debate Nationals.
Johnson said the team was successful at nationals this year, especially once the competition moved to elimination rounds.
“We did well,” he said. “By the time they got to semi finals out of those 200 teams there were eight teams left in the competition; we had three of them.”
Of those three teams, one made it to finals and lost in a 4 to 3 split decision. A team from Harvard, which consisted of one person from Ireland and another from Cambridge, took first place.
“It also might be worth mentioning that the champions from Harvard were attending Harvard Law School, they were both law school students.”
Although the Seawolf Debate team has had some students with an undergraduate degree, most of the team are current undergraduates, which has helped to create a unique, open environment for the debate team.
“I think what’s so cool about, like, UAA and our debate team here is like anyone can walk in and anyone can show up to practice,” she said. “That’s really different than like Harvard and Yale,” said junior Libby Smelker.
Members of the debate team say the process helps them in other areas as well.
“The stuff that we learn with debating is applicable to things outside of debate. Like writing skills and I went to Juneau and testified on a bill and basically what I said there was a debate speech,” Rodgers said.
The Seawolf Debate team also received an invitation to send two of its debaters to a prestigious James Madison Commemorative Debate and Citizens Forum, hosted by James Madison University (JMU).
This year is the first time the Seawolf Debate team has been able to attend. Although the team is funded by the University, just like sports teams, they have to be diplomatic about which tournaments they attend. And this year, JMU offered to pay the traveling costs to send the chosen debaters, Vasillios “Akis” Gialopsos and Brett Frazer.
“This year they’re paying for us to come down because of our performance at Worlds and because of our world ranking,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the JMU forum is a well-recognized event that will host teams such as George Washington University, Harvard and Yale. Among the features of the event is $29,000 in prize money.
Gialopsos and Frazer are set to debate the topic: “This house stands resolved that amnesty should be granted to illegal immigrants currently living in the United States.”
Since every round of each tournament they attend has a new motion up for debate, the team is ready to debate almost anything. What’s not up for debate is that the Seawolf Debate program is a team to watch.