McKendree University's Speech and Debate Team Notches High Marks in Various Tournaments This Fall

Speech and Debate Team 2023-2024Coach Joe Blasdel recognized for 20 years of coaching excellence at the university.

(LEBANON, Ill.) – The McKendree University speech and debate team’s season is in full swing this fall with students competing in tournaments hosted by Rice University, Bowling Green State University and Mercer University.

The team kicked off its season in Houston, Texas at the Rice University Classic from September 30 through October 1. Coaches Joe Blasdel and Brent Nicholson took nine students to the tournament, including junior Aaron Brown, first-year Keon Butchee, junior Garrett Crabtree, first-year Alex Duncan, sophomore Elan Headlee, first-year Erik Hovlid, first-year Meera Mohammad, first-year Jada Tolbert and junior Alexandra Walthes, who competed in a variety of events. For many of these students, this was their first college debate tournament. McKendree students tested their knowledge and skill against students from top universities around the nation, including Rice University, University of California – Berkeley, Notre Dame, University of Texas – Austin, University of Texas – Tyler, and University of Utah.

Bowling Green State University’s tournament was hosted virtually from October 14 through 15, and McKendree students entered multiple events at home. Sophomore Caitlin Asbury made her first appearance as a member of the team and sophomore Gracie Vincent made her season debut. They joined Crabtree, Headlee, Hovlid and Walthes. Walthes finished as high as second place in Impromptu Speaking and third in Dramatic Interpretation. Vincent recorded ballots of third place in both Prose and Extemporaneous Speaking. In debate, Crabtree and Headlee went 2-2, narrowly missing elimination rounds.

On Saturday, Oct. 21, Blasdel was recognized for 20 years of coaching excellence at the university. A group of alumni joined him at the Speech and Debate house in Lebanon, Ill., to celebrate the team’s history and future.

“It was fantastic to visit with current and former students, as well as supporters of the program,” said Blasdel. “I’d like to thank Erin Conner and Paul Woodruff for setting up the event as well as offer a special thanks to Dr. Bill Haskins, Shirley Schaefer and Becky Wohltman for their gifts in support of program.”

Away from home, coaches Nicholson and Lance Allen helped four students compete at the first-annual Mercer University debate tournament in Macon, Ga. Brown and Mohammad advanced to the elimination stage of the tournament and finished as quarterfinalists. Brown was recognized as the eighth-best individual debater at the tournament, and Mohammad was recognized as the second-best novice speaker. Duncan and Tolbert finished as the second-place novice team at the tournament, losing a close final round to students from Morehouse College. Duncan was awarded fourth-best novice speaker and Tolbert won fifth-best novice speaker. Every Bearcat took home an award for team success and another for their individual excellence.

“We’re very proud of the work our students have done so far, and it shows in our improving results. For a relatively young team to put up early results is a testament to their work ethic and willingness to learn,” said Nicholson.

The team will compete in three more competitions this semester and host a high school tournament. In October, the Hunsaker Classic, named for Dr. Richard Hunsaker, who was instrumental in the foundation of McKendree’s team and the team at Belleville West High School, will bring high school students from across Southern Illinois to compete on McKendree’s campus. In November, the team will host a virtual competition of its own, the Bearcat Classic. December sees the team close out its fall semester with the Big Tent Online, a virtual debate tournament co-hosted by GLVC rival Truman State and Missouri State. Also in December, the speech team will compete at Webster University’s Gateway.