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A-State Debate Team Closes Season With Strong Tournament Finishes, Wins Service Award


JONESBORO — Arkansas State University’s debate team closed out the fall season with strong showings in the program’s final fall scheduled tournaments. But, the program is most proud of bringing home the prestigious 2014 Service Award sponsored by the Noel Foundation.

“We have won a lot of tournaments and trophies during my tenure here at Arkansas State as the director of the debate program, but none more impressive than what we accomplished in receiving the 2014 Service Award sponsored by the Noel Foundation,“ said Dr. Chris Harper, head coach and director of the debate team.

This award went to the team who collected the most canned goods for distribution to a local food bank in Shreveport, Louisiana, where the last tournament was held.

“One of our senior debaters, Benton Bajorek, took the lead on this project and did a fantastic job,” Harper continued. “With support of students and faculty, Arkansas State was able to donate more than 250 pounds of canned goods for this great cause.”

The Red Wolf debate team finished second overall in the Debate Sweepstakes at five-time International Public Debate Association (IPDA) national champion LSU-Shreveport last weekend behind the success of first-year debaters.

The A-State team of Baker Weilert of Fort Scott, Kansas, and Rachel Bjornstad of Powell, Wyoming, led the squad by advancing to the preliminary rounds. The pair fell in the finals to Kansas Wesleyan. Another notable finish included the team of Sam Grooms of Springdale and Lakin Cathey of Heber Springs, who also advanced all the way to the semifinals of the tournament.

“We got a little unlucky in that two of our teams were matched against each other in the semi-finals of the tournament,” Harper said. “Instead of having them debate each other, Baker and Rachel were pushed to finals because they had a better preliminary debate record at the tournament than Sam and Lakin. That’s a really tough way to get knocked out of a tournament, having to hit your own team.”

Other notable finishes also came from a couple of first tournament debaters. Haley Buford of Cabot was undefeated in preliminary rounds of IPDA debate posting a 6-0 record. Haley advanced all the way to quarterfinals at the tournament before being eliminated.

Nate Johnson of Jonesboro concluded the IPDA tournament as the fifth overall speaker and qualified for out rounds. In addition, Arnelle Jones of Osceola and Garry Newman of Hot Springs both advanced to out rounds.

“Our first-year debaters really stepped up and were excellent,” Harper stated. “This was their first tournament of the year and every one of them advanced to out rounds. I could not have been more proud. They have worked really hard this year getting tournament-ready and performed to peak potential.”

In separate tournament play, duo JJ Thompson and Weilert advanced to the semifinals of the McKendree University swing tournaments recently in Lebanon, Illinois.

McKendree hosted two tournaments in one weekend with Thompson of Cave Springs and Weilert being eliminated by eventual champion University of Texas-Tyler in both showdowns. Nationally ranked UT-Tyler captured both tourney titles.

The A-State team of Bajorek and Bjornstad also advanced to out rounds before being eliminated in the quarterfinal round of competition.

“McKendree was a really tough tournament for us,” said Harper, assistant professor of communication studies. “Baker and JJ won every round that wasn’t against Texas-Tyler. They really had our number. Hats off to them for back-to-back championships. This was also our first time to compete at McKendree, and I think it hurt us a little not knowing the judging pool very well. Overall, it was really good competition.”