McKendree’s Speech, Debate Team Ends Season with Strong Performances in Multiple Tournaments

Speech and Debate Team 2024(LEBANON, Ill., May , 2024) - The McKendree speech and debate team’s season has come to an end with strong performances at the International Public Debate Association’s National Tournament and the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence.

In Starkville, Miss., Director of Speech and Debate Joe Blasdel and Assistant Coach Lance Allen oversaw the team competing in its first ever public debate championship tournament. Sophomore Gracie Vincent and first year Meera Mohammad competed at the junior varsity level. At the novice level, junior Garrett Crabtree was joined by sophomores Cailtin Asbury and Jasmyne Jackson and first-years Elan Headlee, Erik Hovlid and Jada Tolbert. The team competed against debaters from Arkansas State University, Idaho State University, University of Alabama and University of Florida, among a total of 308 students who entered the tournament across three divisions.

In summation of the season and tournament, Blasdel said, "Not only did we work hard and have a competitively successful season, but we also had a really positive team atmosphere. I'm excited to have everyone return next year, along with a large group of incoming students."

The team took home only one award, but it was a big one. Elan Headlee was second place in the nation in the novice division, falling on a narrow 3-2 decision in the final round against Dallas Baptist University. Headlee’s ability was put to the test in six elimination debates, and he won five of them on his way to his final round appearance. This performance is the fifth time in the last eight years that McKendree debaters have been in a novice national final round. Those appearances span three different formats of debate, including both individual and partner formats.

“At some level, it doesn’t surprise me that Elan had such a great tournament. He has worked hard all year and dedicated himself to learning his craft along with his great group of teammates,” said Coach Brent Nicholson. “There’s always a chance it goes wrong once you’re at the tournament, but over the last eight years, this team has had consistent novice success, and I think this whole coaching staff takes pride in that. It shows that our students are learning and refining their abilities.”

In Walla Walla, Wash., Nicholson represented McKendree as a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence and oversaw the team of juniors Aaron Brown and Emma McIlhargie competing at the most exclusive national tournament in Parliamentary Debate. The National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence is an invite-only tournament, which seeks to foster the best competition in parliamentary debate as an endcap to the season. This year, the team of Brown and McIlhargie competed as the 13 seed of 18 teams entered. They finished the preliminary stage with a total ballot count of 4 wins and 6 losses, falling short of the necessary six wins to advance to the top eight elimination stage. McIlhargie was recognized as the 16th best individual speaker at the tournament and Brown was the 17th. The team debated on topics about American agriculture policy, military technology and education infrastructure, as well as Thailand’s shipping industry and the economic community of West African States’ monetary policy.

 “This performance is disappointing, because we always want to have our hard work represented in our wins and losses, but we had exceptional feedback on the quality of our research from judges and competitors. I believe our students learned a lot about this format of debate and this year’s topics,” Coach Brent Nicholson said. “This is an exceedingly difficult tournament to do well at, and that’s represented by the successes of schools with standout teams. The national champions from University of California – Berkeley and the runners-up from Whitman College were both joined in the elimination stage by teammates, and that shows how important a single strong partnership is to a debate program. Those strong teams lift up their teammates and make them better, too. I’m hopeful that Aaron and Emma will be that team for us next year as we look to regain our position as a premier parliamentary debate program and capture our elusive NPTE Championship.”

McKendree has finished as high as second (2021), third (2012), and fifth (2009) place at previous National Parliamentary Tournaments of Excellence, but has never been recognized as tournament champion.

These two tournaments marked the end of the team’s season, but planning for next year is already in effect. McKendree University has been selected as the host of the National Parliamentary Debate Association’s Championship Tournament and the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence. The University last hosted these tournaments in March 2020.

Interested students are always welcome to join the McKendree Speech and Debate team. Students can contact Director of Speech and Debate Joe Blasdel by email at with any inquiries about the team.