Two seniors shattered the glass ceiling this year by being the first University of Wyoming women to make it to the elimination round at the National Debate Tournament.
Hunter McFarland and Mary Marcum were the only UW students to make it that far this year in the prestigious competition dominated by the best public and private universities in the country. It was also only the third time in 40 years UW Debate has made it to the elimination rounds at nationals, though the team has qualified for the tournament every year since 2002.
It's like the March Madness for collegiate debate.
Debate coach Travis Cram made it to the elimination round in 2008. UW’s team is often the underdog at nationals, he said. The school is overshadowed by well-known debate teams from places like Harvard and Dartmouth. But that has set an interesting pattern for Wyoming’s students, he said.
“The core template that has defined Wyoming debate (is) they are scrappier than the competition,” Cram said. “They just work incredibly hard.”
McFarland, Marcum, and their teammates Bria Frame and Carter Henman, were designated 2016 All-American Squad members by the Cross Examination Debate Association.
UW Debate is often ranked high nationally, but breaking the school’s gender barrier, in a tournament historically dominated by men, made this a historic season, Cram said.
This was McFarland’s seventh year competing in debate between high school and college. She said it’s much like being on a sports team -- you have to love it.
The rigorous preparation for debate came before her social life. Holidays and weekends were spent, more often than not, on the road, she said.
“You have to find students that care enough to throw that much energy into the activity,” Cram said. “It is a full-time job on top of being a full-time student.”
UW Debate receives the year’s topic over the summer, and begin drilling and researching as early as July. The competition season runs from September to April.
McFarland and Marcum had the benefit of history together. The teammates had paired up for a semester before this year’s competitions began.
They spent as many as 40 hours a week researching and staying current on their topic, the U.S. military presences in foreign countries, McFarland said.
During a competition the teams may debate three times in a day, both sides of the issue. It’s emotionally and intellectually taxing, but you have to be reasonable about your performance, she said.
“Once you have a debate, whether you lose or win it, just move on to the next one and get ready,” she said.
One of the most satisfying moments of the debates this year for Cram was when his two seniors faced Baylor University in the national competition. It was an important debate that would determine whether the team continued to the next round.
Baylor’s team had chosen not to disclose its arguments. But UW’s seniors had studied their opponents’ previous debates. Cram and Marcum stepped into the hall and took 20 minutes to anticipate the direction the debate would go.
“We walked through what moves or pivots she should make. We were able to kind of effectively map out the way that they would go,” the coach said. “That was the most exciting moment for me.”
McFarland and Marcum’s groundbreaking season is the end of their college debate career but raises the bar for UW.
“Marcum and McFarland just had the most successful policy debate season in Wyoming’s century-long history of intercollegiate debate,” the coaches said in a statement. “What they accomplished is incredible and helps to demonstrate that UW is, time and again, one the country’s top intellectual powerhouses.”