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Students place in top ten at national debate competition

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Top ten finalists, Ashley Tippins and Kenny Torre, pose with their debate coach, Steven Woods. // Photo courtesy of Kenny Torre.

It’s been a year of partnership, and after battling some of the smartest people in the country, Ashley Tippins, 24, and Kenny Torre, 21, came out with a big victory.

Saturday, March 19,  through Monday, March 21, Tippins and Torres competed at the National Parliamentary Debate Association Championship Tournament and placed within the top-ten teams of the nation.

The Western team placed seventh  in the nation and Torre and Tippins each won individual awards as well. Tippins won first place for the speaker award and Torre won second, not too far behind in points.

There were 54 schools in the tournament with 163 teams, each with two people. The competition had six to eight preliminary rounds where everyone competes. Then, single elimination rounds start, said Korry Harvey, assistant debate coach.

Tippins and Torre didn’t need much coaching for this event.

“For the most part they had a really good plan of what they wanted to do,” their debate coach, Steven Woods, said.

There is a love-hate relationship when it comes to debating, Torre said.

Torre said it is extremely stressful when debating against one of the top five teams, in the country in front of a panel of judges and a room full of people, when given 20 minutes to prepare hand-written speeches on unusual topics.

The competition can be hard when issues of race, wealth or gender get brought into the mix, Torre said. Micro-aggressions, such as male competitors speaking over their female counterparts, have happened at the competitions, Torre said.

At nationals, one of the topics was how the team felt they were affected by white supremacy. Torre and Tippins said they were crying after some rounds and even had judges crying after rounds as well.

“We had people who would just come to watch us, teams we had never heard of like Los Angeles Community College, because we were debating these really personal arguments that were really relatable,” Torre said.

Torre said that he noticed at lower divisions there were more female and more people of color competing, but in higher divisions there are a lot more white people and males, especially among coaches and judges.

“Challenging those kind of pernicious aspects of white privilege, institutional discrimination and inequity,” Harvey said. “Certainly a challenge, but also a very rewarding challenge.”

During her regular classes, Tippins said she struggled with the pace of the classes being too slow.

“Debate allows me to have self direction with how I was learning things and what I was doing in a way I never have before,” Tippins said.

Debate allows students to learn as well as talk about they are interested in. Tippins said it is empowering to be able to talk about subjects important to her.

Tippins and Torre both started their debate careers and instantly fell in love with the sport, they said.  Torre started debate when he was a sophomore in high school, while Tippins didn’t start until she was in college.

Torres and Tippins said they cherish their teammates and the people involved with debate. “The people that were in [the debate team] were what really made me stick with it the most,” Torre said.

Western debate team is different than most other debate teams, “There’s a lot of drama that normally happens with debate teams because of all the competition, but Western’s debate team is really more of a community,” Tippins said.

Both Torres and Tippins say that they will be continuing debate after college as  coaches at the high school and college levels.

*This article was changed from a previous version to correct the name Korry Harvey to Steven Woods.*


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