No Debate: They’re the Best in the Nation.
No Debate: The Best in the Nation.
In just six years, CUI went from having no debate program at all to having the top debate team in the country. They did it through savvy recruiting, rigorous training and a diverse team whose opposing views sharpened each other.
Konrad Hack, Concordia’s forensics director, built his team from the ground up. He began recruiting strategically from overlooked places such as junior colleges and homeschool debate leagues. CUI supported his efforts by offering scholarships, and Hack brought a number of potential students to campus for tours, meetings with faculty members and to hear his vision of what the program could be.
That was enough to convince a handful of up-and-coming debaters to take a chance on CUI. They included a particularly talented crop of seasoned debaters from El Camino and Moorpark community colleges. Both community colleges boast strong debate teams. Hack also recruited a group of strong homeschool debaters, and with them a diversity of views most programs lack.
Will Prier ’13, who was recruited out of high school in 2009 when there were just four debaters on CUI’s team says,
"It's been the most rewarding part of my college experience and one of the most intense and educational experiences I’ve had."
David Saulet was among those students recruited from El Camino. “Debate gave me a place where I had friends I could relate to any time of day. That support network was important for me,” says Saulet. "I really love the small, tight-knit nature of Concordia and the fact that I know more or less every communications major. I like that my professors are experienced in their field. I could talk to them directly. I wasn't a number in a lecture hall. Concordia gave me a place to get intensive learning."
CUI’s teams improved steadily and by 2010 they were winning more than losing. By 2012, CUI’s squad was nabbing the top overall award in nearly every tournament they competed in. At one point they strategically divided the squad, sending their top speech-makers to a tournament in UC Berkeley and their top debaters to a tournament in San Francisco State. CUI won both tournaments.
Hack says that, like anything, debate success is about discipline and hard work. “It helps to be talented and bright, but discipline and hard work beats being bright 95 percent of the time,” he says.
The squad set their sights on the national championships in Stockton and put in sixty hours a week preparing. “People can’t really comprehend how people prepare for these things,” says Prier. “It’s a vast amount of research, familiarizing yourself with large policy discussions and arguments on both sides.”
It came down to the final round, and when the squad learned that CUI had won,
"It was pandemonium in good sense. There were tears, laughter, hugs and lots of applause."
CUI had bested schools like Wheaton, Whitman, Texas Tech, UC Berkeley, UCLA and the University of Oregon.
Saulet, who made it to the quarterfinals with partner Zach and finished the year ranked #5 in the nation out of 800 teams, says the national tournament was “very emotional for me — scary and exhilarating. But we accomplished our goal: showed we were best team at the tournament that year and did well the whole season.”