For the first time since 2008, Concordia College will be represented at the National Debate Tournament, overcoming serious odds along the way.
Junior Erik Walker and sophomore Emily Bosch won the District Four qualifying tournament by a landslide on Feb. 25 and 26, winning 10 out of 12 possible ballots and sending them to the National Debate Tournament in Atlanta later this month. However, their remarkable win was anything but expected after a date mix-up almost kept the Concordia team from competing.
It was Friday, Feb. 24 around midnight when Bosch received a text from the University of Minnesota debate coach asking if they’d made it to the cities all right for the tournament the next day. The only tournament he could possibly be talking about was the district qualifying tournament, which the Concordia debate team wasn’t expecting until the next weekend.
“At first we thought it was a joke,” Bosch said. She and the other debate team members were gathered at Walker’s house, oblivious to the fact that in eight hours, they were expected to be competing in Minneapolis.
After checking with other teams and getting confirmation after confirmation that the qualifying tournament was, in fact, the next day, they quickly called their head coach, communication studies professor Fred Sternhagen.
Sternhagen was in the process of getting ready for bed when he received the frantic call from his debaters. They made the quick decision to try to make it to the tournament if they could, arrived at Concordia packed for the weekend, piled into Sternhagen’s minivan, and set off for the long drive to the Cities.
Tyler Snelling, a freshman debater, said that the van ride down was tense.
“It was a feeling of utmost stress combined with carelessness,” Snelling said. “It felt like we were going to go and get slaughtered.”
By the time they arrived at their hotel in Minneapolis, it was after 5 a.m. The first round of debates was scheduled to begin in three hours. Luckily, the start time eventually got pushed back to eleven.
But still, the Concordia debaters had been banking on having another week to prepare their cases. Instead of using new arguments, they had to create hybrids—combining what new material they had with their existing cases.
“There were a lot of things we wished we could have had polished,” Bosch said.
Going on nothing but pure adrenaline, Walker and Bosch entered the qualifying tournament with low expectations.
Later, when their names were announced declaring that they had won, they could hardly believe it.
“Joy” and “utter happiness,” was how Bosch described it. “I just thought, we did it. How did we do it?” she said. “Coming out of that circumstance made it even better.”
“They did not merely qualify. They did not merely win. They were dominant,” said Sternhagen. “This is not like winning the MIAC,” he continued. “We’re competing against the U of M, the University of Iowa, Big 10 teams.”
Winning 10 out of 12 ballots, there was a wide gap between Walker and Bosch and the three teams that were then tied for second at seven ballots.
Their spectacular debating earned them a spot at the National Debate Tournament, scheduled for March 29 to April 2. There they will be competing against debate teams from around the country, including teams from schools like Harvard University and Dartmouth College.
“This is one of the things I love most about debate,” Sternhagen said. “This is the kind of activity where Concordia College can walk into a room with Harvard and say, ‘I hope you’re ready.’”
Celebration of Walker and Bosch’s success didn’t last long, however. On Tuesday, Feb. 28, junior Nathaniel Nesiba was looking over the judge’s comments on the ballots from his and Snelling’s debate the previous weekend. The duo had come out of the tournament with six winning ballots, one less than the seven needed to tie with the other three teams in running for second place. It was then that Nesiba discovered an ambiguity in one of his ballots.
Even though Nesiba and Snelling had received higher scores than their opponents, and even though the judge had marked that their side won, the judge wrote down the incorrect school name. Whoever tallied up the ballots then looked only at the school name written down and awarded Nesiba and Snelling’s opponents with the winning ballot for that round, keeping the Concordia duo from competing for a spot at nationals.
Nesiba emailed Sternhagen, who immediately contacted the district chair. The only solution they could think of was to have another round where the Concordia duo would debate against the University of Minnesota team, who was the first seed in the runoff. However, Snelling was already at home in Nebraska for mid-semester break by that time, making it impossible.
When he first discovered the mistake, Snelling said that he was furious. But after it became evident that there was really nothing they could do, his anger turned to disappointment.
“This tournament only had eight teams, I don’t understand a mistake like this,” Snelling said.
But even though this year’s tournament did not turn out as the duo would have liked, Snelling said it has nonetheless made him even more excited for next year’s competition.
“Especially since we got so close without being prepared, it has given me a lot of confidence,” he said.
Walker and Bosch, however, are already preparing for the biggest tournament of their career so far. Walker, who has been first alternate for the last two years, is excited to finally be able to go to the National Debate Tournament. Bosch, who will be one of few underclassmen at this prestigious event, is thrilled as well.
Both agreed that the tournament will definitely be more of a learning experience, as they will be competing with the cream of the crop. Instead, what the two are most looking forward to are hanging out with debate friends from around the country and getting the opportunity to debate with teams they’ve never had the opportunity to debate before.
Overall, despite the mishaps and mistakes surrounding the qualifying tournament, Concordia still came out on top, showing resilience and pure skill on behalf of the debaters. However, dates will be double and triple checked in the future, and they can only hope nothing like this ever happens again.
“It’s definitely a story I’m going to tell my children,” Bosch said.
Kate Campbell, class of ’13, is the copy editor of The Concordian and is majoring in English education. She is from Sauk Rapids, Minn. At Concordia, Kate is involved in choir and band and works at the Writing Center. After graduation, Kate would like to teach English in a middle or high school.