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UW Debate Team Makes History

April 29, 2016
two women, one standing and looking at computer and the other sitting and looking at computer
UW debate team members Hunter McFarland, left, of Twin Falls, Idaho, and Mary Marcum, of Omaha, Neb., became the first UW all-women team to advance to the elimination rounds at the National Debate Tournament. (Neil Seejoor Photo)

University of Wyoming debate team members Hunter McFarland and Mary Marcum concluded their collegiate debate careers with historic finishes at the national championships.

The senior duo competed first at the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) national championship in Binghamton, N.Y., where more than 100 teams participated. During the preliminary debates, the two scored six wins, which earned them the 13th seed in the tournament going into the elimination-round debates.

McFarland, of Twin Falls, Idaho, and Marcum, of Omaha, Neb., ended the competition in the Elite Eight. No other UW team has advanced to that level in more than 40 years.

“I had been in octafinals (the Sweet 16) twice, so finally breaking that barrier and getting into quarterfinals was pretty amazing,” Marcum says.

McFarland and Marcum weren’t the only UW duo at CEDA. Bria Frame, a senior from Kalispell, Mont., and Carter Henman, a junior from Cheyenne, also competed. The two started out strong the first day, but had a difficult second day. Although they fell short of reaching the elimination rounds, Frame and Henman won their final preliminary debate, giving them four wins and ending Frame’s competitive debating with a victory.

After their strong performance at CEDA, McFarland and Marcum competed at the National Debate Tournament (NDT), a qualification-only championship. They advanced to the elimination rounds, where they lost on a split 3-2 decision to Liberty University, the tournament’s third seed. It was only the third time in the past 40 years that UW has reached the elimination rounds.

“The fact that it’s a woman-woman partnership for a debate club that has over a century of experience in terms of participating in intercollegiate competitive debate, and this is the first time they’ve done that (advanced to the elimination rounds of the NDT), is truly remarkable,” says Travis Cram, director of forensics in the Department of Communication and Journalism.

In addition to scoring numerous victories, UW debate team members received accolades for their contributions and their academic successes. McFarland and Marcum were named to the 2016 CEDA All-American squad. CEDA also recognized UW debaters for their academic achievements. Marcum received the highest distinction as a National Debate Scholar, summa cum laude. Henman and Spencer Culver, a junior from Kansas City, Mo., were named National Debate Scholars, magna cum laude, while Frame and McFarland received the cum laude designation.

Being a nationally successful debater requires dedication and discipline. Unlike some other activities, debate essentially is a 12-month commitment. Preparations begin in the summer with researching and writing topic statements. During the competition season, which runs September through March, debaters prepare daily by reading articles, researching possible arguments, and practicing speeches and debates with other teammates and coaches.

“The students choose to give up quite a bit of normal undergraduate life to participate at this level,” Cram says. “While people are enjoying their winter break, they’re attending back-to-back tournaments. They also usually give up their spring break as well.”

Although debate can be a demanding activity, it can be one of the most rewarding activities in which to be involved, Marcum says.

“I think it makes a huge difference in the lives of many young individuals, and I would certainly encourage more people to get involved in this activity, especially at the University of Wyoming,” Marcum says. “I think that we’re, in many ways, an underdog institution that people do not expect quite as much from, and yet consistently we always demonstrate success.”

McFarland says debate has taught her a lot about life and has given her some valuable skills.

“I believe that the best skill that debate teaches you is critical thinking skills,” McFarland says. “Not only do you have to think critically, but you have to do it very quickly. You have to come up with that next argument immediately. You learn how to analyze material at a very fast pace and also deploy arguments that you think will win you the round.”

Although their competitive debate days are over, debate will remain a part of their lives. Marcum will attend law school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln next fall. McFarland will stay at UW to pursue a master’s degree in communication, and she will switch roles from competitor to assistant coach of the debate team. 


Hear UW Director of Forensics Travis Cram discuss the UW debate team’s success.

Hear UW Director of Forensics Travis Cram discuss the UW debate team’s success.


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