The Wiley College debate team of 2014 has earned the mantle, “The Great Debaters,” the name was bestowed on the team by director-actor Denzel Washington in a movie by the same name which premiered in 2008.
The 23-person team, coached by Chris Medina, met the best debaters from 80 colleges and universities sent by 26 states to the National Pi Kappa Delta Comprehensive National Tournament staged the weekend of March 20 in Indianapolis, Indiana. This was the largest Pi Kappa Delta Tournament in their 101 year history. The Great Debaters came away in first place.
When the winning totals from the debates and individual events – 2000 entries in all – Wiley College was named champion. In all the team garnered 60 awards, capping a season of 373 tournament wins, plus exhibition debates with the University of Southern California, Harvard University and the world champion team from Monash University of Melbourne, Australia.
The team is comprised entirely of first and second year collegiate competitors. This allowed them all to compete at the Junior Varsity National Championships the week before in Hutchinson, KS; where they also won the tournament championship.
Those victories hold special meaning for the historically black college founded in 1873 in Marshall. The team’s name chosen by the college, “Melvin B. Tolson / Denzel Washington Forensics Society,” represents a continuum which began with Melvin B. Tolson’s arrival on the campus in 1924. By the 1930’s Tolson’s students were so powerful they began to be invited to compete against white colleges and universities. They were nevertheless considered by the white establishment to be second class citizens, not permitted to join the national forensics fraternity, Pi Kappa Delta.
Then came the win in 1935 against that year’s national PKD champions, the University of Southern California. Tolson was asked to write about the win for the PKD publication The Forensic.
“There was none of that dullness and drabness usually observed at debates.” He wrote. “When the finest intellects of black youth and white youth meet the thinking person gets the thrill of seeing beneath the racial phenomena the identity of worthy qualities.”
The Wiley squad, which is itself interracial, said it wanted to accept the national honor on behalf of Tolson’s teams from 1924 to 1946 who had not been allowed to compete in Pi Kappa Delta events.
With two record breaking events behind it, next week – April 4-7 – Wiley’s squad will journey to Tempe, Arizona, for the America Forensics Association Individual events tournament – a tournament of champions for selective students who qualify through earlier high tournament rankings. Following that, two members of the team fly to Ypsilanti, Michigan, seeking the national championship title for Lincoln-Douglas style debates.
Hobart Jarrett, of Tulsa Okla., was a senior member of Tolson’s championship team. This is what he wrote in 1935 in the NAACP newspaper, The Crisis, “There was a time when white colleges thought that debating against a Negro institution was mental dissipation, but that view has passed forever.”
As far as facing Wiley College at the podium in the 21st century is concerned Coach Medina can safely say that dissipation has been replaced with dread.
Wiley’s winners in the PKD National Debate Championships included:
- Jhamiah Dixon, a junior from Port Arthur, TX, excellence in Prose, quarterfinalist in Duo (with partner, Mary Mitchell), excellence in Poetry.
- Farah Habad, sophomore from Union City, CA, excellence in Prose, excellence in Impromptu, sixth in Programmed Oral Interpretation, quarterfinalist in Dramatic Interpretation, third in Poetry, third speaker in Public Forum debate, seventh in Pentathalon.
- Kayla Hall, freshman from Lewisville, TX, excellence in Prose, excellence in Duo (with partner, Austin Ashford), excellence in Persuasion.
- Mary Mitchell, a freshman from Renton, WA, excellence in Prose, quarterfinalist in Duo (with partner, Jhamiah Dixon).
- Marcus Rembert, a freshman from Birmingham, AL, excellence in Prose, sixth in Duo (with partner, Ernest Mack), quarterfinalist in Dramatic Interpretation, tournament champion in Reader’s Theater.
- Autumnwind Spear, a freshman from New York, New York, excellence in Prose, fourth in Duo (with partner, Drake Pough), outstanding legislator in Congressional Debate.
- Drake Pough, a sophomore from Union City, CA, quarterfinalist in Prose, quarterfinalist in Duo (with partner, Eric Robinson), fourth in Duo (with partner, Autumnwind Spear), second in Poetry, tournament champion in Reader’s Theater.
- Eric Robinson, a sophomore from Fort Worth, TX, quarterfinalist in Prose, quarterfinalist in Duo (with partner, Drake Pough), semifinalist in Duo (with partner, Dominick Taylor), second in Dramatic Interpretation.
- Austin Ashford, a sophomore from Union City, CA, national champion in Poetry , national champion in Dramatic Interpretation, quarterfinalist in Prose, excellence in Duo (with partner, Kayla Hall), second in Programmed Oral Interpretation, semifinalist in Public Forum debate, top speaker in Public Forum debate.
- Dominick Taylor, a junior from St. Louis, MO, sixth in Prose, semifinalist in Duo (wither partner, Eric Robinson), semifinalist in Dramatic Interpretation, excellence in Poetry, tournament champion in Reader’s Theater.
- Ki-Jana Hernandez, a freshman from Union City, CA, excellence in Impromptu, semifinalist in Programmed Oral Interpretation, semifinalist in Dramatic Interpretation, quarterfinalist and seventh speaker in Novice IPDA debate.
- Robert Hollar, a sophomore from Los Angeles, CA, excellence in Impromptu.
- Benjamin Turner, a freshman from Antioch, CA, excellence in Impromptu, fourth in Programmed Oral Interpretation.
- Jesus Cardenas, a freshman from Union City, CA, semifinalist in Impromptu, semifinalist in Extemporaneous Speaking, fourth speaker in Public Forum debate.
- Ernest Mack, a freshman from Flint, MI, sixth in Duo (with partner, Marcus Rembert), tournament champion in Reader’s Theater.
- LaQuanda Streeter, excellence in Persuasion, outstanding legislator in Congressional Debate.
- Aaron Tumbaga, a freshman from Union City, CA, quarterfinalist in Programmed Oral Interpretation.
- Rachel Garnett, a sophomore from Puyallup, WA, excellence in Poetry.
- Cameron Smith, a freshman from St. Louis, MO, second place and top speaker in Junior Varsity Lincoln-Douglas debate.
The Melvin B. Tolson/Denzel Washington Forensics Society is a competitive speech and debate team, affiliated with Pi Kappa Delta, the National Forensics Association, and the American Forensics Association.
For more information contact Coach Sarah Spiker Rainey, (903)927-3084, firstname.lastname@example.org