Mercer debaters perform well at tournament honoring University legend

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4 smiling college students outside holding awards
Members of Mercer’s debate team (l-r) Jayla Owens, Niata Patel, Chirayu Salgarkar and Thomas Bartlett. Photo courtesy Dr. Vasile Stănesc

MACON — Mercer University’s debate team recently hosted its first-ever National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) tournament. The team made it to the quarterfinal round of the tournament, which took place Oct. 21-22, and was named for Dr. Frank Macke, an emeritus professor at the University. 

Dr. Macke attended the tournament, judged one of the elimination rounds and was recognized for his lifetime commitment to debate and Mercer. Dr. Macke started coaching debate as a grad student at Missouri State University in 1978, coached for two years as a Ph.D. student at Southern Illinois University and then headed the program at Western Illinois University from 1982-1988. Dr. Macke coached the Mercer debate team from the fall of 1988 to the spring of 1993 and went on to serve as a mentor for three successful Mercer debate coaches. According to the tournament invitation, “a lifetime advocate for debate, the tournament name is a reflection that every Mercer debate success is a reflection of (Dr. Macke’s) support.”

Dr. Vasile Stănescu, associate professor of communication studies and director of debate, said Mercer debate has been successful because they have always stood on the ‘shoulders of giants.’ “From Dr. Frank Macke to Dr. Kevin Cummings, Dr. James Stanescu and Dr. Cameron Kunzelman, every single professor currently teaching in the communication department is a former debater or debate coach who has given tirelessly to our success. Naming the tournament after Dr. Macke is a public acknowledgment that all of our successes have only ever been because of their ongoing support. Every debate victory is a reflection on these remarkable educators and, in particular, on the sustained mentorship by Dr. Macke.”

Two Mercer debate teams made it to the quarterfinal round of the tournament:  Senior Chirayu Salgarkar, a biomedical engineering and mathematics double-major, and sophomore Thomas Bartlett, a global development and Spanish double-major; and sophomore Jayla Owens, a biology major, and junior Niyati Patel, an international affairs and Spanish double-major. Both teams lost in the semifinal rounds to debaters from Rice University.

Dr. Stănescu co-ran the tournament with Associate Director of Debate Fiker Tesfaye. Before joining Mercer, Tesfaye, a lecturer of communication studies, won the James ‘Al’ Johnson Top Speaker Award, the highest individual honor presented at the NPDA championship. The Mercer debate team was co-coached by Adeja Powell and Cam Wade. Adeja Powell is a former winner of the national NPDA championship and currently lectures for the University. Wade is a former Mercer debater who recently graduated from the University of Chicago. During his time at Mercer, he also won the James ‘Al’ Johnson Top Speaker Award.