For the ﬁrst time in ﬁve years the University of South Dakota has a speech and debate team competing on a national circuit.
USD’s debate team was forced to disband following their 2007 season due to disciplinary issues on trips and the lack of a coach.
According to team adviser Shane Semmler, there was a renewed interest in starting the team up again in 2012.
“I taught an argumentation class and there were debaters in the class,” Semmler said. “They talked a lot about starting a team again and so I decided to become the faculty advisor and help them get some funding to start a team.”
In February 2012 the debate team received funding to participate in a tournament in Brookings with the help of the communication studies department and the College of Arts and Sciences. One of the debate teams reached the semiﬁnal round at the event.
There are also two scholarships, the Harold Jordan Scholarship and the Freeberg Scholarship, which provide a combined total of $3,400 for ﬁrst-year and upper-class debaters.
The team is still without a coach, though Semmler tries to ﬁll that role.
“My assignment here is to be a teacher and researcher, not a coach, and so a lot of what I do for the debate team I sort of just do on my own time,” Semmler said. “I’m going to continue to work to keep debate part of the university culture.”
USD’s speech and debate team is a part of the American Forensic Association and the National Parliamentary Debate Association. This year they’ve participated in team debate and seven individual events.
USD competes in district four of the American Forensic Association National Individual Events Tournament, which consists of schools located in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Including the completion of the “Bunny Bop” Feb. 23 in Brookings, the team will have participated in four tournaments in the 2012-13 season, reaching their goal for the year.
The ﬁrst three tournaments saw a debate team reach the quarterﬁnals three times, including a semiﬁnals appearance, with individuals placing six times.
Semmler said there are plans to further expand on the number of tournaments the team will take part in.
“The year after next we’ll be at about eight tournaments a year,” Semmler said. “We’re sort of on a plan where we’re building the team little by little every year so it’s not overwhelming.”
Emmy Smith, who participates in debate, impromptu, persuasive and extemporaneous speaking, said even without a full-time coach those on the team are optimistic about the future of the debate team.
“Our ﬁrst year on the national circuit has provided us with opportunities and the ability to grow,” Smith said.
Anna Kuznik, an impromptu, informative and after-dinner speaker, sees a lot of value in being on the debate team, and thinks her teammates do too.
“Debate really helps develop your communication skills, which is something employers are looking,” Kuznik said. “The team is mostly freshmen, and they’ll be interested in sticking around.”