Despite several hurdles, the University’s Debate Team recently placed among the top college debate teams in the country.

Last week, the University of Michigan Debate Team defeated Harvard University’s debate team at the University of Georgia Tournament, taking first place in what Aaron Kall, the director of the University’s team, said is “one of the most significant debate wins in a decade.”

Though the team faced challenges such as a top debater falling ill and a grueling schedule, LSA senior Edmund Zagorin and Public Policy junior Maria Liu, both on the debate team, rose to the occasion to defeat Harvard in a 3-0 victory. During the debate, Liu became sick with food poisoning, but persevered nonetheless.

“For them to bear down and fight those obstacles for the win was great, and I’m very happy to see that,” Kall said.

Kall and David Heidt, the team’s assistant director, were appointed to the team at the beginning of last semester. The team’s former director, Joshua Hoe, pled guilty in October to sexually soliciting a minor over the Internet. Hoe was suspended from his job after being arrested last April, according to an April 29, 2010 Michigan Daily article.

LSA Junior Omega Skeean, a member of the debate team, said while the group has experienced difficulties over the past few years, it is now on a positive trajectory. She added that Kall has done a lot of administrative work to improve the team’s relationship with the University.

In the tournament, Liu and Zagorin’s topic of debate was the expansion of immigration visas worldwide.

“We talked about things like employment visas to increase U.S. competition (and) visas for translators in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Liu said.

Skeean commended the effort that Liu and Zagorin put into the competition, as well as the work of the team as a whole.

“I was extremely happy for Edmund and Maria, and they deserve any success they get,” Skeean said.

Whit Whitmore and Nick Miller, assistant coaches for the University’s Debate Team, also contributed to the success of the team, Skeean said.

“They’re there everyday to help us practice, doing things with us like speaking drills,” Skeean said.

Engineering freshman Akum Gill said the team began practicing in August 2010. Though they thrive in a competitive environment, all the debate team members agree that they’re like a family.

“It’s a great, strong dynamic just like any other sports team that spends a lot of time together and working together,” Kall said.

Kall said the debate team’s competitiveness is just like a sports team. With 13 or 14 competitions a year, Kall said debate has about the same number of competitions as a college football team. Members also compete against other Big Ten universities like Northwestern University and Michigan State University.

Looking toward the future, Kall said the team hopes to recruit more talent.

“Our long-term goals are to improve the program,” he said. “Edmund, our top debater, is graduating. We need to find the next Edmund, or the next Denard Robinson, in debate.”

Kall said University administrators are also working to recruit top debating students to the school and to the team. To achieve this goal, the team has a summer program for high school students, and members of the debate team are in the process of setting up scholarships for the best high school debaters.

The team also hopes to establish a scholarship fund with contributions from the extensive network of debate team alumni, Kall said.

“A lot of our competitors give them away as well, and we want to compete for the best students,” he said.

Kall added that last week’s win will help the recruitment process.

“When (recruits) see the success and tournament victory, it shows that Michigan is a place that they can debate at the highest level,” he said.

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