LAWRENCE — University of Kansas debaters Azja Butler, Lansing sophomore, and Kenny Delph, Little Rock, Arkansas, senior, took first place at a tournament hosted by Harvard University from Nov. 2-4. The pair won 10 debates over three days to emerge victorious over a field of 84 teams. They defeated a team from Emory University in the finals to capture the first-place trophy.
They are the first KU duo to win the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Harvard tournament since 2008, when the team of Brett Bricker and Nate Johnson won the tournament. Bricker is currently the associate director of debate at KU.
Butler and Delph advanced to the elimination rounds by winning six of eight debates over two days. They scored wins over teams from Trinity University, the University of Texas, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan and two different teams from Northwestern University. They advanced to the elimination rounds as the ninth seed and defeated Georgetown University in the round of 16, Baylor University in the final eight and the University of California at Berkeley in the semifinals before defeating Emory in the championship debate. Butler and Delph both received individual speaker awards at the tournament as well.
Three other KU teams had finished with 5-3 records at the tournament and just missed qualifying for the elimination rounds. Nathan Martin, Lansing junior, and Nick Massa, Prairie Village junior, were the 18th seed; Gabriel Esquivel-Yglesias, Wichita junior, and Ross Fitzpatrick, Leawood junior, the 29th seed; and Julia Henry, Hutchinson senior, and Lily Ottinger, Shawnee junior, the 31st. Most national tournaments the size of the Harvard tournament advance the top 32 teams to single-elimination rounds, and all of the KU teams finished in the top 32. Harvard is a unique tournament that only clears the top 16 teams to the single-elimination debates. KU also captured another victory at the tournament as KU assistant coach and former KU debater Jyleesa Hampton won the Harvard Halloween costume competition.
This was the sixth tournament KU Debate has attended this semester. KU has won three tournaments, finished second at another, and also had two third-place finishes and three fifth-place finishes.
“This has been an amazing start to the year, and the depth of talent in the program is the best it has been in my 28 years at KU,” said Scott Harris, the David B. Pittaway Director of Debate.
A week earlier two KU teams traveled to a tournament hosted in Detroit by Wayne State University, and the freshman pair of Michael Mcmahon, Overland Park, and Michael Scott, Glenview, Illinois, won the tournament. Another team of two freshmen, Jimin Park, Topeka, and Jet Semrick, Prairie Village, took third place at the tournament as the two KU teams met each other in the semifinals. The higher-seeded team of McMahon and Scott advanced to the championship debate, where they defeated Michigan State University. The two freshman teams combined to go 15-2 on the weekend and logged wins over Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Iowa, Harvard University, the University of Nevada Las Vegas, the University of Kentucky and Wayne State University. Scott won the second-place individual speaker award, and Mcmahon won the third-place speaker award.
That same weekend another KU team, Carolyn Hassett, Leawood junior, and Ryan Snow, Highlands Ranch, Colorado, sophomore, traveled to a tournament at Wichita State University and captured fifth place. The pair also both won top 10 speaker awards as Hassett won the second-place individual award and Snow finished sixth.
The KU team of Park and Semrick won a tournament hosted at Emporia State University. They went 8-1 on the weekend with wins over teams from Kansas State University, Baylor University, Concordia College and the University of Texas-Dallas. They avenged their only preliminary loss by winning a rematch in the championship debate over the University of Central Oklahoma. Park was the second-place individual speaker at the tournament, and Ryan Snow was the eighth-place speaker.
Park and Semrick also had a second-place tournament finish at a tournament at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The pair went 7-2 at the tournament including wins over the University of Texas, the University of Iowa, Missouri State University and the University of Central Oklahoma before losing to the host school in the championship debate. The two other KU teams competing at the tournament also advanced to the single-elimination rounds as Hassett and Snow reached the semifinals for a third-place finish. First-year debaters Solomon Park, Overland Park, and Haley Rose, Lawrence, advanced to the quarterfinals. Rose won the third-place individual speaker award, and Park won the ninth-place award.
The team of Butler and Delph also had a fifth-place finish at a major national tournament at the University of Kentucky. The pair went 7-1 in the preliminary rounds and advanced to the elimination rounds as the third seed. In the elimination rounds they defeated the University of Pittsburgh and Emory University before losing to Dartmouth College in the quarterfinals. Three other KU teams also qualified for the elimination rounds. Park and Semrick advanced to the final 16 with a win over Trinity University, while Mcmahon/Scott and Henry/Ottinger lost in the round of 32. A fifth KU team, Esquivel-Yglesias/Fitzpatrick, was 5-3 in preliminary rounds and just missed qualifying for the elimination rounds. A sixth KU team, freshmen Max Lillich, Lawrence, and Park qualified for the first-year debater elimination rounds and finished in fifth place. Butler and Delph both won individual speaker awards at the tournament as Butler was the fifth-place speaker and Delph the sixth-place speaker.
KU has two tournaments remaining on its fall semester schedule with tournaments at the University of Central Oklahoma and at Wake Forest University. They will also be competing at multiple tournaments in the spring semester as the squad seeks to qualify teams for the National Debate Tournament for the 53rd consecutive year. The 2020 National Debate Tournament will be hosted by James Madison University March 26-30.
Photos: University of Kansas debaters Azja Butler, Lansing sophomore, and Kenny Delph, Little Rock, Arkansas, senior, took first place at a tournament hosted by Harvard University. Photos courtesy of Scott Harris.