Style. The word has become synonymous with Fort Hays State University's debate team. The team placed 17th at the national championship last year. This year, they have aspirations of reaching that level of success again.
" They've been doing much better than anticipated. I thought it would take a longer time to get momentum but they've excelled thus far," said Dr. William Shanahan III, assistant professor of communication studies.
This year's roster first competed at Gonzaga University's Jesuit Debates in Spokane, WA.
" This was the first year that the squad has traveled to this part of the Pacific Northwest since I have been coach," Shanahan said. "We thought the trek would be worthwhile since the national debate tournament will be held there in March, for which we hope to qualify. I figured we would test the Pacific waters and see what we had this year."
Approximately 60 teams attended the tournament, including several representing the Midwest. FHSU debaters Michael Richardson, Hutchinson senior, and Phil Bouska, Goddard sophomore, together managed a 4-3 win-loss record during the seven-round tournaments. After the seven preliminary debates, Richardson and Bouska were seeded 19th, advancing to the elimination rounds.
In the first elimination round, the two competed against Cal State Fullerton. which had beaten FHSU in the preliminaries. In a very close but very decisive round, Richardson and Bouska won on a 2-1 decision.
In order to clear the elimination rounds, Richardson and Bouska had to win their final two debates against Denver and Central Oklahoma. Despite their best efforts, they lost on a 1-2 decision, finishing in a tie for ninth place out of the 60 teams.
Richardson was awarded 25th place out of the 120 individual speakers competing.
" Michael demonstrated that he was ready to take the leadership role after two years debating in the shadow of Paul Mabrey," Shanahan said. "This hopefully will prove to be his year."
Mabrey, Manhattan senior, returned to the squad as a student-coach.
The team's second competition was Sept. 25 at Georgia State University in Atlanta. They competed against 120 other teams, including some of the top-seeded teams in the nation.
Richardson, competing against 240 speakers, tied for 39th in the individual speaker category.
After the team performance rounds, Richardson and Bouska were tied for 20th place with a 5-3 record. The team placed 36th after missing the elimination rounds by .71 speaker point.
Despite the loss, Shanahan said he remains optimistic about the team's performance and is impressed by the early success.
" The quick start has heartened my feelings about how well we will do. If we can stall on the competitive curve, we can achieve last years' success," he said. "It will take a little bit of time to recoup last year's success though. We could approach it, but it's difficult to tell. The pieces are all in place though. It's a fun and challenging time to be associated with Fort Hays State."
The team's dynamics were tested early this semester when Bouska was added to the team roster after transferring from Wichita State.
" The transition has been smooth as a result of the fact that Phil came here knowing our style and came with a philosophy background," Shanahan said.
He said Bouska's philosophy background has helped strengthen the squad's debate tactics, for which they are becoming nationally known.
" The rest of the country uses fast, more traditional, more political engagement," Shanahan said. "We criticize the underlying assumptions of those projects. We try to bring art and location into those locations to disrupt that traditional flow."
" To do this, our style merges the traditional and philosophical styles," he continued. "It really brings a new edge to the traditional style that has been practiced for the past five to six decades, and because of that, it still catches a lot of people off guard. That's what's fun though. I think that it's only going to get better."