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UW Debaters Seek National Title

March 26, 2015
one woman sitting and one standing at a portable podium set on a table
University of Wyoming debaters Hunter McFarland, of Twin Falls, Idaho, left, and Mary Marcum, of Omaha, Neb., sharpen their skills as they prepare for the National Debate Tournament April 3-6 in Iowa City, Iowa. (UW photo)

While fans statewide cheered on the University of Wyoming’s men’s basketball team during its recent conference tournament championship and berth in the NCAA tournament, another UW team has qualified for and is preparing for a national championship run of its own.

UW debate team members Mary Marcum, a senior from Omaha, Neb., and Hunter McFarland, a junior from Twin Falls, Idaho, qualified for the National Debate Tournament (NDT), the academic equivalent of the NCAA basketball tournament. The event is scheduled April 3-6 in Iowa City, Iowa.

At the recent conference tournament in Seattle, Wash., Marcum and McFarland were recognized for their speaking prowess, earning individual honors as the fifth- and seventh-best speakers, respectively, in the entire field. 

But their more significant accomplishment was the thrilling fashion in which they qualified. After taking two tough losses on the first day to the University of Puget Sound and Weber State (the tournament’s top qualifier and pre-tournament top seed, respectively), the two UW students rallied to advance to a sudden death elimination round against Gonzaga, where they prevailed on a split decision to earn a spot at the NDT.

Marcum and McFarland’s victory culminated a successful season for UW debaters. Undergraduate students amassed an impressive list of wins, including decisions over Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, the University of Southern California, Whitman College and others. UW debaters collected wins versus some of the most distinguished public research universities as well, including Minnesota, the University of Oklahoma, Iowa and the University of Washington.

“It is clear, from the academic company our debaters keep, that Wyoming students are some of the most hard-working and brightest individuals in the country,” says Travis Cram, director of forensics in the UW Department of Communication and Journalism.

The team’s success is not surprising to Cram. He says UW has a long tradition of success regionally and nationally. UW won the NDT district championships from 2006-2008. UW’s parliamentary debate team won national championships in 1995 and 2003, and claimed the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE) championship in 2003. The team is coming off back-to-back “Sweet 16” appearances in the NDT.

“Undergraduate debaters pour in hours of practice and research in Laramie while still being model students in the classroom,” Cram says. “This hard-working group of Pokes is richly deserving of our praise and support.”

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