The University of Nebraska–Lincoln Speech and Debate Team has won a national championship — the first in the team’s 151-year history.
The Debate Team earned top honors in Lincoln Douglas Debate at the National Forensic Association’s National Tournament April 15-18 at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.
The Speech Team finished eighth at the American Forensic Association’s National Speech Tournament, which took place April 2-4 at Nebraska.
The Husker Debate Team is one of the deepest and youngest in the country. Ten team members qualified for the national tournament, the most of any school. The team was led by sophomore Azza Elhaj from Khartoum, Sudan, who advanced to the semifinal round and finished the tournament with a 9-1 record.
Overall, six Huskers posted winning records and advanced to elimination rounds. Brothers Nicholas and Zachary Wallenburg from Lenexa, Kansas, both advanced to the quarterfinal round and finished with a combined record of 13-5. Zachary, a first-year student, was also named the tournament’s third overall speaker, and Nick, a junior, was named the ninth overall speaker.
Three other students advanced to elimination rounds: Salman Djingueinabaye, a senior from Lincoln; Gregory Quick, a senior from Eagan, Minnesota; and Amber Tanehill, a sophomore from Bennet, Nebraska.
“Every student on this team contributed to our success,” said Justin Kirk, director of debate. “They worked together and built a strong team during a pandemic. They showcased resilience and grit over the last two years, and this victory is a product of their determination.”
This was the fifth consecutive year the Huskers have finished in the top five in the nation in Lincoln Douglas Debate and the 12th consecutive year the team has finished in the top 15. In 2018, Husker debater Colten White won the individual national championship in Lincoln Douglas Debate. White is now the head debate coach at Lincoln Southeast High School.
The team’s success in debate comes on the heels of achievements earlier this month at the National Speech Tournament in Lincoln, where the speech team took eighth. Seven-hundred people attended the tournament, which featured 49 universities and colleges across the country. The tournament was highlighted by Clare Frances Kennedy, a senior from Franklin, Tennessee, and Ben Czapla, a senior from Lincoln, who were both selected as All-Americans. Only 12 students in the nation achieved All-American status this year.
The team advanced to the elimination round in 19 events, a team record, and the semifinal round in five events. Semifinalists in this year’s tournament were Czapla in persuasive speaking, Kennedy in program oral interpretation, and Madison Imig, a senior from Grand Island, in extemporaneous speaking. Also, making the semifinal round were Juliana Quattrocchi and Victoria Thomas, both sophomores from Lincoln.
“We are incredibly proud of the hard work of our students and coaches,” said Aaron Duncan, director of speech and debate. “Many of our tournaments were moved online the past two years because of the pandemic, but we were able to have both national tournaments in person. Our students showed they were prepared and ready to compete in person.”
Kirk joined the team four years ago thanks to an endowed position for debate established by an alum.
“Dr. Kirk is one of the finest coaches in the nation, but he is not only a great coach, he is also a great educator,” Duncan said. “He empowers students with the tools to craft arguments and ideas that allow them to find their voice and helps them to back up those ideas with research and evidence.”
Allison Bonander, director of speech, was integral to the planning and hosting of the national tournament in Lincoln and to the speech team’s success.
“Year after year, these students dedicate all of themselves to being better: to bettering themselves, their teammates, bettering their communities,” Bonander said. “Having the national tournament come together on our campus, after being apart for two years, was unbelievably special and was a highlight of my career.”
Duncan said the team’s success would not be possible without the campuswide support it receives.
“The glory of this championship will shine brightly, but it will always be outshone by the glory our students bring to the team and the university through hard work, thoughtfulness, resilience and selflessness,” Duncan said. “Their success is the product of extraordinary effort, but also the product of a great university that values research, integrity and the search for knowledge. UNL is an institution that celebrates debate, discussion and dialogue. Our success is the direct result of the support from the Department of Communication Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences, alumni and the Chancellor’s Office.”
The Speech and Debate team is part of Nebraska’s Department of Communication Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. More information on the department or the Speech and Debate Team can be found here.