Uniting the crowns

 

Elijah Smith and Ryan WashBy Gwendolynne Larson, Assistant Director of Media Relations

With the Emporia State fight song blasting through the public-address system and Corky in the lead, debaters Ryan Wash and Elijah Smith and their coaches Sam Maurer and Christopher Loghry paraded through the Memorial Union on April 3 to cheers and applause from faculty, staff, fellow students, members of the Emporia community, family and friends.

It was a fitting conclusion to a history-making season.

In a whirlwind 10-day swing through the western United States, Smith and Wash (Emporia SW as they are listed on debate brackets) accomplished what no other duo ever has — they captured first place at both the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) national tournament and the National Debate Tournament (NDT).

One other team came close to the feat. In 2005, University of California-Berkeley won CEDA, but took second at NDT.

The 2013 win also breaks other barriers. Smith, a junior political science major from Newark, N.J., and Wash, who is from Kansas City, Mo., and graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in communications, are the first team of black debaters to win the NDT. And both come from urban debate programs, a movement that began in the mid-1980s with the goal of bringing debate into inner-city public schools.

“The support, the messages, the hugs, just being there with the black students from the college debate world ... they rallied around us,” said Wash, describing the final round at NDT. “There were 300 people in the room and they were excited. They stood up and were clapping. For the black debate community, it’s an experience we share with all the others still searching to find a home in debate.”

Added Smith: “I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to go back and see what Martin Luther King Jr. did, to walk with Rosa. It’s not much of a macro change, but a little bit of black history occurred, and I’m proud we were part of it.”

The CEDA tournament was held March 22-26 at Idaho State University in Pocatello. Immediately after that win, the team headed to Weber State University in Ogden for NDT, which ran from March 28-April 1. The final round of NDT took two hours, then the team had to wait for the judges’ ballots, which came around 12:30 a.m. April 2.

“You have 15-hour days,” said Maurer, explaining the atmosphere. “It’s arduous. After the third or fourth day, it’s difficult to stay awake and aware enough to make decisions at 400 words per minute.”

For Smith and Wash, the win served as an acknowledgement of their unique style honed in the world of urban debate, in which debaters often use personal stories, poetry and rap to make their points.

During the final debate, Wash smacked his fist into his palm, ripped at his shirt and pounded the table — a far cry from the formal style of traditional debate. For both Smith and Wash, the key to their success, both in the debate world and personally, is being true to their roots.

“One thing Ryan taught me,” said Smith, “is that debate is not worth it if you’re not saying what you truly want to say.”