debate team

JMU's debate team has qualified for ten consecutive National Debate Tournaments. JMU's 2018 team is pictured above. 

The JMU debate team qualified for the National Debate Tournament for the 10th consecutive year on March 4, earning a spot among the top 20 collegiate teams in the U.S. Approximately 50 universities across the country qualified this year, which provides a competitive experience for students to conduct research and form an argument on a given topic. 

The 2019 NDT will be held from March 21-25 at the University of Minnesota. The elected topic the debaters have studied this year is “presidential powers.” With eight districts across the nation, JMU lands in the Mid-Atlantic region of District 7, where there’s “brutal competition,” according to former director of debate and current executive advisor to the president, Mike Davis.

“JMU is a very frequent, almost always, qualifier for the National Debate Tournament,” chair for the NDT committee Dallas Perkins said. “They’ve always had strong coaching and a number over the years of very gifted, dedicated leaders … It’s got a long tradition of excellence. I think it attracts some pretty good students and they have a big program that develops young talent very aggressively.”

JMU first qualified in 1978 and has continued to be competitive almost every year since. While the Dukes have never won the tournament, the team made it to the Elite Eight in the 1995 competition. According to Davis, JMU is recognized as part of the “center of the debate universe” because the university was recently elected to host the 2020 NDT. 

“We are interested in developing the debaters as people first and as competitors second,” Davis said. “I think they feel more supported and have a commitment to the debate program … It’s the hardest competition they’re ever going to face, it’s the best of the best.”

After a district debate competition, there are three waves of qualifications for the NDT that each school must pass.  According to Davis, the work the students complete is equivalent to doing more than a master’s thesis and leaves them with a dedication to debate. The dynamic of the JMU team is based on group support where younger debaters help with conducting research and practicing with the most experienced students chosen to represent the university.

Senior communication studies major Joey Konrad has been debating at JMU for four years, rising through the ranks and representing the university. This year, he’ll head to the NDT for the third time with fellow debater Alec Bellis.

“There has not been a single thing that has helped my academic success more than debate,” Konrad said. “The amount that it teaches you about researching and various research skills, the ability to write and make an argument and the ability to defend that has been numerously helpful ... I have so much practice in, sort of, these skills that some people may not have as much time in.”

The pair has been partaking in “intensive prep” and plans to attack the tournament like every other competition. Davis added that some of the top debaters in the nation work up to 40 hours per week on debate practice and research. While there’s brutal competition throughout the four days of debate, the team aims to refine its skills and grow stronger with every round. According to Perkins, good speakers dominate the game, but the quality and closeness of the partnership can impact each team dramatically. 

“I don’t think there’s any better thing that people can do in college to develop leadership skills,” Perkins said. “It’s very highly competitive activities that stresses students to do their very best under pressure and to perform their best. Those skills that go into that are vital to the leadership in almost any field that somebody wants to partake in … Those skills are all portable to take into other endeavors.”

Contact Bridget Murphy at For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.