February 20, 2019 | 33° F

U. debate team earns top national ranking

Just a few years ago the Rutgers Debate Union was the brunt of many jokes, said Debate Team Vice President Farhan Ali said. But now, the joke is on the competition.

The debate team, which was No. 24 in the nation last year, earned a first-place finish at an intercollegiate tournament Saturday at George Washington University, said Ali, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

This moves the team into third place nationally, as it trails only behind teams from Yale University and Harvard University, an accomplishment Ali said is the result of hard work.  

"When the Debate Union started in 2002, teams like Princeton and Columbia often beat us easily," he said. "We always had one or two debaters who were better than average, but would never make it far on the debate circuit."

The team accepted mediocrity as its standard, but when Storey Clayton took the head coaching position last year, the team began to see change, Ali said.

"He started to coach us, and we immediately started to see results," he said. "He changed the attitude we had and made us feel like we could compete with Ivy League schools, and better yet, actually beat them."

Clayton, who was a debater for Brandeis University from 1998 to 2002 and in 2001 won the North American Debating Championship, has an extensive background in the activity.  

"I was living in Princeton at the time [the University appealed to me,] but was much more excited to coach an underdog state school like Rutgers," he said.

Clayton does not regret the move and said it has been satisfying to have the University's team beat Princeton's, which is now No.11 in the national standings.

More than anything, Clayton said he is proud of how much the team's confidence increased in such a short period of time.

"There was a lot of frustration on the team and people were concerned they would never be able to compete with top schools," he said.  "A lot of what's changed has just been the ability to realize debate is something that can be learned and, like anything, improves with more work."

Clayton is not the only one recognizing the debate team's hard work. Students on campus agree the ranking is well deserved.

"I think this is a great accomplishment. It has been a tough year for Rutgers, so a win like this could really give the school a good name," Erin O'Brien, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said.  

Clayton said it would be difficult for the team to beat its own record, and he is satisfied with maintaining the third-place ranking throughout the remainder of the year, rather than trying to surpass it.

"Finishing the year in the top five would be an incredible accomplishment, especially since our highest ranking ever was 24th, which was last year," he said.

Clayton said as long as the team stays humble, it should be able to maintain its ranking.

"Often success can lead to complacency, which is important to avoid," Clayton said.

Although he is proud of the team, Ali said there are a few things it still needs to work on.

For example, he said increases in membership and funding are key to the team's success.

He hopes to see the team represent the University well.

"We just need to start winning even more tournaments and beat Harvard for the second spot and hopefully challenge Yale for the Club Of The Year trophy," Ali said.

Paige Tatulli

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