Debate team ranks third in the nation at National Parliamentary Debate Association Tournament

Group of college students with gavel awards outside
Mercer debate team at the 2024 National Parliamentary Debate Association National Tournament at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City

MACON — Mercer University’s debate team was ranked third in the nation  at the 2024 National Parliamentary Debate Association National Tournament held March 13-17, at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The ranking was based on the combined performance of everyone who competed.

Breanna Acevedo, sophomore political science major with a minor in communication, made it to the semifinals in novice. Breanna earned a 17th place speaker in varsity, even though she was competing as a novice.

Thomas Bartlett, sophomore global development and Spanish major, made it to Octofinals.  

Red Mason, freshman psychology major, made it to the semifinal in novice and won the Dan Henning Award for the Top Novice Speaker. This is the sixth time Mercer has won this award, more than any other college or University in the nation. 

Jayla Kemara Owens, sophomore biology major, made it to quarterfinals and was the 10th-place speaker.

Niyati Mukesh Patel, junior global development, Spanish and international affairs major, made it to quarterfinals and was the 11th-place speaker.

Nolan Ralls, freshman international business and economics major, won the second-place novice speaker award.

Chirayu Salgarkar, senior math and biomedical engineer, made it to Octofinals and was the 18th place speaker. Chirayu also won the award for “All American,” an award reserved for the best graduating seniors in the activity. 

Mya Rhema Hudson Kimbrough, sophomore international affairs major, also competed at Nationals and “contributed to the overall team’s success,” said Dr. Vasile Stănescu, associate professor of communication studies and director of debate, who was one of four coaches who helped with the team this year.

During the Tournament, team coach Adeja Powell, a former winner of the national NPDA championship, was elected as the new president of the National Parliamentary Debate Association. Powell is the first African American to be elected President.

In addition to Dr. Stănescu and Powell, this year’s coaches were Associate Director of Debate Fiker Tesfaye and alumnus Cam Wade. Tesfaye, a lecturer of communication studies, previously won the  James ‘Al’ Johnson Top Speaker Award, the highest individual honor presented at the NPDA championship. Powell, a volunteer coach with the team this year, previously won NPDA Nationals. Wade is a former Mercer debater, who recently graduated from the University of Chicago.  During his time at Mercer, Cam also won the James ‘Al’ Johnson Top Speaker Award.

“Mercer achieving third place at the National Tournament based on the combined performance of our entire team was only achievable by virtually every single Mercer debater winning at every possible level,” said Dr. Stănescu. “It is a particular testament to the quality of our coaching staff—all national winners—who have poured their heart and soul into the team for this entire year. This victory underscores what makes Mercer special; if you come to Mercer, you will be one of the best in the nation who, in turn, will be trained by one of the best of the nation.”  

Parliamentary debate features two teams of two students debating one another on relevant topics of national or international interest. One team, called the “government,” affirms a given resolution, while the other team, called the “opposition,” refutes it. The four speakers alternate in presenting their arguments, based on their existing knowledge as well as 20 minutes of research done just prior to the debate.

“From the newest of debaters at their first few moments in the activity to students who dedicated their collegiate experience to debate, they have shown tremendous determination and strength,” said Tesfaye. “I cannot be more proud of their accomplishments and their success. We win as a team, and they show that Mercer is only getting started showing everyone in the nation what we’re capable of. Go Bears!”