You might not want to start an argument with Kansas University senior Brett Bricker. He's got a reputation for winning.
Bricker is a member of the university's debate team, which took the national title in April for the second time in three years. And while KU basketball or football might lure larger crowds, the amount of time, energy and dedication debate members funnel into the game is roughly the same.
Debaters don't race across gym floors, bounce basketballs or shoot free throws during practices, but they do spend 25 to 50 hours per week hunched over computers, flipping through books or perusing papers to prepare for meets. Bricker spends roughly 40 to 50 hours, in addition to his academic responsibilities, on debate.
"I spend so much time because I'm passionate and I'm competitive," Bricker said. "I really like to win, and debate is not really one of those things that you can go halfway at and still be really successful. You've got to put your whole self into it."
Junior debater Dylan Quigley also said debate demands as much devotion as athletics.
"For an athlete maybe it's a 6 a.m. run, but for us it's getting up and immediately starting to research," Quigley said. "We spend as many if not more hours than any collegiate athlete just doing things to prepare."
Little incentive for recruits
Though members might invest as much time and energy into debate as athletes put into sports, they don't reap the same rewards. The debate team has no work-study positions and very little scholarship money. There are no full-ride packages.
"Three or four students wanted to come to KU ... but they were getting offers from other less successful programs that included substantial scholarship money that we just can't match," Quigley said. "We don't have any substantial scholarship money, and very limited money for anyone coming out of state, which is really hampering the recruiting process for KU."
Now the team has no out-of-state students and only one female member - senior debater Erum Shah. She participated in debate during high school - then when she entered college she decided not to take part. By her sophomore year, Shah's love for debate tugged her toward the activity again.
"It should show you that the kids who are willing to be part of this activity, even without scholarships, love it and want to be here and it's something that means a lot to them," Shah said.
Thrill of the game
Quigley agreed, saying debate provides an adrenaline rush that pulls people back and keeps them hooked for the duration of their college career.
"It's the love for competition, that moment where it's just you, your opponent and the judge in the back of the room," Quigley said. "For an hour and half, that's all that matters in the world, the competition, that feeling of giving everything you have. It's powerful feeling, one that keeps people coming back year after year after year and it's one, when I finish my time in debate, that I will miss greatly."
The love for debate causes team members to spend copious amounts of time together: planning, preparing, practicing. They meet every Wednesday night. They spend late nights at the library. And when there's a tournament, the teams attending climb into a van, shuttle to the competing school and remain together Friday through Monday. Team members do a "Rock Chalk" chant before competing, and if there's a KU sports event during a round, someone will creep outside to check on the score. After the tournament, the team has dinner and talks about the day.
All of the time spent together has forged friendships.
"All of us are a pretty tight circle of friends, so all of us always hang out on the weekends, go out together, things like that," Bricker said. "I think that's like any other team. People see the basketball team out together. ... We're out there, too."
The close connection isn't a distraction, though. Instead it inspires members to boost efforts and spend more time trying to win.
"We share each other's victories, and we are saddened by each other's defeats," Quigley said. "We really do everything we can to help each other out during the tournament."
The late nights and early mornings spent sifting through periodicals, texts and newspapers have helped the team earn public recognition. In May, representatives from the team attended Championship Friday - a day dedicated to KU's football, men's basketball and debate teams - and they met Governor Kathleen Sebelius.
"That was a really great affirmation of our accomplishments," Quigley said. "It's not that we ever expect to have hoards of cheering fans like the basketball team, but we really appreciate the respect that we've been shown."
And now when Shah, Bricker or Quigley tell people they're on the debate team, many are aware of the team's success. Students are usually fairly supportive. And the KU faculty is congratulatory.
But even a public failure to notice wouldn't diminish the team's devotion. They debate for other reasons. When asked to name his main reason for debating, Bricker doesn't hesitate.
"Winning," he said. "I enjoy all of the debates. I like the research and everything, but I do it all for winning."