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      Great Debate : North Texan teams excel at academic sport  

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Coach Bullock Hyder (seated) with North Texas debaters.

IN 1911, GREEN AND WHITE PENNANTS flew over Denton, college administrators canceled classes and people lined streets, eager to cheer on the home team in a morning parade. Others prepared for the afternoon banquet and pep rally.

What sounds today like preparation for a football game was North Texas State Normal College’s way to pump up for a debate.


Championship teams

For more than 90 years, debate has been a tradition at UNT. John Gossett, chair of the Department of Communication Studies and former debate coach, calls it an academic sport, one in which UNT debaters have captured national attention through the years.

In 1948, UNT debaters Keith Parks (’48) and David Cotten (’48) won first place at the National Debate Tournament — the national championship for collegiate debate — just one year after it was established. Since then, North Texas teams have placed in the national tournament seven times.

Among the top finishes, debaters Anne Hodges Morgan (’62) and John Swaney (’63) earned fifth place in the 1962 national tournament. Morgan was named the National Women’s Collegiate Debate and Extemporaneous Speaking Champion that year, and the team also appeared on the nationally televised Sinclair Oil TV debate series, winning a $1,000 prize.

Two years ago, Eli Holloway (’99) and current student Kenda Cunningham earned fifth place at the national tournament, where judges named Holloway the 10th-best speaker.


Practice drills

Practice is as necessary for debate as it is for athletic competition. Teams often spend 30 to 40 hours a week preparing massive amounts of research and doing practice rounds, speeches and speaking drills.

Bob Davis (’72), who won the Texas state debate championship as a high school senior before joining the North Texas squad, remembers especially well one tournament and the consequences of poor preparation.

“Mike Kelley and I had a good tournament year as freshmen in ’68-’69 and qualified for freshman nationals in Louisville,” Davis says. “Dr. Bill Medley was assigned by [William] DeMougeot to coach us for the tournament. We only had a week to prepare, but hey, we thought we were damn good.”

Davis says their coaches insisted the men practice, so they went through the motions, but at the tournament their lack of preparation showed.

“We stunk up the place,” he says. “Our logic was ill, our persuasion was non, and our quoted authorities deserted us like witnesses at a Mafia trial. We died with our wing-tips on.”

Serious practice sessions produced not only better debaters, but fast friends, says Shari Leslie Davis (’72).

“Because of the intensity that comes with debating, it’s easier to carry on those friendships,” says Shari, who married fellow debater Bob. “I think those bonds are always a little stronger.”


After their playing days

After spending countless hours practicing, playing and pouring themselves into their sport, some debaters move on to the coaching ranks.

Sherry Hall (’85), one of Harvard’s debate coaches, began her love of college debate at UNT.

“As a political science major, I originally wanted to go to law school, but I loved debating so much I decided to become a coach,” Hall says.

Her college debate partner, Joel Rollins (’84, ’89 M.A.), currently serves as the director of the debate program at the University of Texas at Austin.

He says debating allowed him to enhance what he learned in the classroom.

“Debating helped me substantially,” Rollins says. “As far as teaching me research and critical thinking skills, it did more than any formal class.”


Teammates forever

William R. DeMougeot (seated) directed the debate program from 1954 to 1971 and from 1979 to 1981.

Many North Texas debaters relive past victories and recall shared memories at a breakfast during Homecoming each year, but Gossett says he wants to expand communication to more than just an annual event. He has created a database of contact information to provide former debaters with an easy way to keep in touch.

“We’re trying to let our graduates know they are part of a family,” Gossett says. “We’re not just putting them on a conveyer belt to get them in and out as fast as possible. We are developing friendships that are based on relationships that will last a lifetime.”

If you’re a former UNT debater and would like your information entered into the database, call Gossett at (940) 565-2588 or send an e-mail to gossett@unt.edu.



Tradition continues

This year marks the 18th time in the last 19 years that UNT debaters have earned invitations to the annual National Debate Tournament. Juniors Kenda Cunningham and John Hines received an at-large invitation, reserved for the top 16 teams in the nation based on season performance. They ended as octafinalists — ranking in the top 16 — at this year’s tournament, held at Baylor University in March.

Sophomores Scotty Gottbreht and Julian Gagnon received an invitation after placing third at a qualifying tournament in Wichita, Kan. They posted a 4-4 record in the preliminary rounds at Baylor — a good performance for a young team, says coach Josh Hoe, lecturer in communication studies.



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