The road to Kansas University’s first national title in debate in 26 years wasn’t easy.
Brett Bricker, a Wichita senior, joined Nate Johnson, a Manhattan senior, in defeating the defending national championship team from Wake Forest in the final round in a decision that was announced after 1 a.m. Tuesday.
Scott Harris, KU debate coach, said Tuesday that the National Debate Tournament title still hadn’t sunk in.
KU took an entourage of about 20 people, including assistant coaches and other debaters, to Austin, Texas, for the tournament.
When the five judges for the final round announced their decision, 4-1 in favor of Kansas, “the room erupted,” Harris recalled.
“The Rock Chalk Chant went on for a couple of hours” in the hotel ballroom that served as the site for the final round, he said.
Bricker and Johnson both reported getting a voluminous number of calls and text messages from KU debate alumni and friends congratulating them on their victory.
“I couldn’t even go to sleep after it was over, I was so wired,” Johnson said. “I didn’t go to sleep until 4 a.m.”
The championship was a situation analogous to last year’s Final Four in men’s basketball, where all four top seeds made the semifinals, Harris said.
Before the tournament, KU’s team was ranked as second overall. The other three top teams — top-ranked Northwestern, Wake Forest and California-Berkeley — all made their way through four days of intense competition and into the single-elimination semifinals.
“I can’t remember that ever happening,” Harris said.
It’s the first national title for the 18-year debate coach at KU, who had teams that reached the Final Four of the National Debate Tournament in 1994 and 1999.
Bricker and Johnson offered high praise for the coach and thanked him and the rest of the squad for their help, saying evidence culled from Harris’ sleepless nights of research during the tournament helped pull them through the final rounds.
Bricker outlined part of the strategy the pair used in the later rounds, pulling out two brand new affirmative cases that they had never run before in an effort to catch the negative team unprepared.
KU debate has 13 NDT Final Four appearances in its history — the same number as the KU basketball team.
KU also won the national title in 1954, 1970, 1976 and 1983 — a tradition not lost on Bricker and Johnson.
“It’s great to have contributed to that history in a positive way,” Johnson said.
One of KU’s national champion debaters, Robert Rowland, who won in 1976 with Frank Cross, is now a professor and chairman of the communication studies department at KU, which oversees the debate program.
“It’s one of those things they’ll carry with them the rest of their lives,” Rowland said. “In these circles, they’ll always be introduced as a national debate champion.”