Hours of preparation lead up to big show at national tournament

UNLV Debate triumphs, steps up to big league

Illustration by Kin Lui

Deep, abrupt breaths interrupt the torrential spitfire of a speaker’s argument while the opposition scribbles down assertions to challenge, all in the midst of an intensive practice session.

Members of the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum at UNLV will attend the National Debate Tournament at the University of Texas-Austin and the group will spend many hours preparing this way before Thursday’s competition.

“Sleep is for the day after the [national tournament],” said Mike Eisenstadt, one of two UNLV tournament participants as he watched his teammates practice rebuttals.

Eisenstadt and fellow debater Travis Cochran won district level competitions to qualify for the national stage, where they will represent UNLV against more than 70 other teams in a series of policy arguments on the topic of agricultural subsidies.

“The [students have] worked hard,” head coach Jacob Thompson said. “We’ve really come together as a team this year.”

Thompson and the group’s four assistant coaches will also attend the tournament and train the qualifying students until the last possible instant.

“We try to take advantage of every second,” assistant coach Grace Saez said.

The NDT will be held just two days after the Cross Examination Debate Association’s open meet, another forensics event which several members of the Berman Forum will attend.

“We get back right before NDT,” Eisenstadt said, “[which means] we have to work really, really really hard [to prepare].”

The group holds three weekly practice sessions and debaters spend additional time working on their competition cases at home.

“I spend about 60 hours a week doing debate,” Eisenstadt said.

Forum coaches have dedicated extra time to ensure optimal performance during the debates as well.

“When we’re traveling with them, it’s 15 hour days [for the coaches] on tournament days,” assistant coach Joey Battocletti said.

Thompson explained that while it is necessary to go over facts and minor details before a debate, most winning arguments are prepared well in advance of the actual competition.

“We just kind of have a belief that practice beforehand and preparation is…very, very important,” Thompson said.

According to Eisenstadt, the forum has achieved its short-term objective of reaching NDT but the team is still hoping to be competitive.

“You have to win five out of eight debates to advance,” he said. “Our goal is to be fighting for that fifth win.”

As for last-minute jitters, Eisenstadt says he tunes them out in order to keep going.

“I just try to channel my fear into motivation,” he said.

The Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum was established last year as a result of a donation from its namesake, hypnotist Sanford Berman. The group competes year-round in debate tournaments across the country.

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