Debate team heads to district qualifiers

Stakes are higher than usual for the Weber State University debate team as it heads this weekend to the qualifying tournament for the 2013 National Debate Tournament, which WSU will host in March for the first time in 25 years.

Two pairs of debaters will participate in the District II National Debate Tournament Qualifier at Whitman College. At the collegiate level, students debate in pairs, also called teams, according to the Lincoln-Douglas debate style.

Senior Dillon Olson and freshman Khalid Sharif, WSU’s A-team debaters, said they hope to qualify this weekend for the National Debate Tournament.

Sharif said that, although debate is always stress-intensive, this is much more stressful than normal.

“Then if we do make it to the NDT, it’ll be double the stress of what we’re having for districts right now,” Sharif said. “. . . We have a lot of pressure to perform well and qualify. We’re just trying to prepare as best we can and then get some wins off the really good teams in districts.”

Other teams in WSU’s district are Gonzaga University, Idaho State University, the University of Puget Sound, the University of Wyoming and Whitman College.

Olson said they have their eyes on the A-team from each school.

Olson and Sharif have been debating partners since the beginning of this semester, but Olson said they were good friends before that, which has helped them fall into their rhythm.

“The dynamics are certainly different, but I don’t think we’re familiar enough yet to know the advantages we have together, because I’m not as familiar with him as I’d like to be,” Olson said. “There’s the age disparity, experience differences.”

He said that, because some of his other partnerships have been difficult, being paired with Sharif is a nice change.

The second WSU team debating at the qualifying tournament is freshmen Catherine Shackelford and Hannah Shoell.

“We’re less stressed than the boys are, because they have to do well, whereas no one is expecting us to do well,” Shackelford said. “We’re supposed to make sure none of the cruddy teams get a spot.”

Omar Guevara, the director of forensics and a professor at WSU, chose these two pairs to compete at the district qualifying tournament.

“We’re just sending the top teams this year, because last year we sent four teams, and our bottom three teams were just essentially free wins for the other teams because they were just not as experienced,” Shoell said. “So this year, he’s only sending us two, because he doesn’t think people are going to get a free win against our team, and maybe that will help Dillon and Khalid.”

If either team qualifies, they will participate in the five-day National Debate Tournament beginning on March 28 with the top 78 teams in the nation. More than 600 guests are expected to visit for the tournament, and Guevara estimated they will spend about $1 million in Ogden and the surrounding area during their stay.

“(Their presence on campus) will be very noticeable,” Shoell said. “The tension will be so palpable you could probably cut it with a knife.”