By Lizzie Wilcox
University of Miami’s debate team is comprised of veteran, novice and humble debaters. Regardless of how many years of experience under their belts, Hurricane debaters won awards across the board at the American Debate Association National tournament March 13-16 at the University of Georgia.
Partners Melissa Cavell and Anna Shah won tenth and eleventh place for individual speaker at the tournament over spring break. The duo also got second place for the Front Royal Cup in the novice division, which, according to Shah, is a new award created by the ADA for the top team throughout the season in each division. They achieved this award by winning three out of the five tournaments they competed in before nationals.
Cavell, a junior at UM, started her debate career during the fall 2014 semester. Her interest in debate was sparked when she took Professor Patrick Waldinger’s public speaking class.
“He would talk about the debate team and he would always say, ‘Oh we’re higher in the rankings.’ A week would go by and they were eigth, they were seventh. I was like I should check it out and see what’s going on and I did and everybody was so nice and so welcoming and it’s turned out to be such a great thing,” Cavell said.
Cavell has made an impression on the debate world during her first year, as she went on to win the Novice Debater of the Year award. According to Patrick Waldinger, who is in his second year as the assistant director of debate, this award lets other students, both teammates and opponents, vote on who wins.
“It’s a testament to showing that she is not only doing well in competition, but people get to know her and really get to like her and it’s really impressive,” Waldinger said.
David Steinberg, the director of the debate team for the past 25 years, spoke highly of Cavell as he sat in his office decorated with debate awards.
“She works hard, is focused and is just fiercely determined in any debate. But I think another thing people respond to is just her genuine kindness and interest in other people.”
Another achievement for the debate team at the American Debate Association Nationals was senior Spencer George being one of three finalists for the Julia Burke Award. Waldinger explained that this award is for “someone who not only excels in competition, but is also a good teammate, a good friend, a good competitor … I think [George] is very fitting for the award.”
George has been debating with the UM team since his first semester freshman year. He said that he debated a little in high school and wanted to try it out in college.
“I realized that I liked it a lot more in college and then I enjoyed the people so I did it and then as time went on I then really grew to love it,” George said. What he loves about debate at the collegiate level is the extra research done on the topics.
The winners are humbled by their winnings and refuse to give credit to only themselves.
“Our awards are a testament to the hard work of the entire team including our coaches, not just us. We definitely would not have had this incredible season without them,” Shah said.
George says that his nomination for the Julia Burke Award was a team effort.
“They gave me motivation to keep going out and helping them and to participate in the community. A lot of credit goes to the individuals that they are, so I can’t take much credit,” he said.
Referring to Cavell, Steinberg noted, “The whole time she would give credit to Anna. Any round they won was because of Anna. She will never take the credit that she deserves.”
Cavell gushed about what a great support system the team is.
“A win for one is a win for all,” she said, “which is why I love the team.”