Novice division of Mercer debate team places first in national competition

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Novice division of Mercer debate team places first in national competition

Yasmeen Hill poses with her first place Novice Speaker award. Hill is the second African-American woman to win the award. Photo by Yusuf Tas

Yasmeen Hill poses with her first place Novice Speaker award. Hill is the second African-American woman to win the award. Photo by Yusuf Tas

Yasmeen Hill poses with her first place Novice Speaker award. Hill is the second African-American woman to win the award. Photo by Yusuf Tas

Yasmeen Hill poses with her first place Novice Speaker award. Hill is the second African-American woman to win the award. Photo by Yusuf Tas

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The Mercer University debate team had a strong showing at The National Parliamentary Debate Association’s championship, with the novice team sweeping the competition to earn a first-place win. The tournament was held March 14-17 at the University of Utah.

Mercer’s team, comprised of both the novice and varsity teams, placed 12th overall.

“The novice team won three things: the final novice round, overall sweepstake award for team record and speaker points, and Yasmeen Hill won first-place speaker,” said Vasile Stanescu, couch of the debate team and professor of communications at Mercer University.

With all pairs of varsity debaters making it to the final elimination round and the novice team sweeping the awards, Stanescu is counting this season as a success.

“No one expected us to win two years in a row. We needed to show that we were still in the game and that we were up and coming,” Stanescu said.

The success of this season has acted as fuel for the team’s ambition.

“After seeing what we can achieve, it just makes me want to work a lot harder,” said Hill, a journalism and media studies student from Marietta, Georgia.

Hill is the second African-American woman to win the top novice speaker award, and she and debate partner Cameron Dawkins are the first novice team comprised of two African-American women to win both the final round and the overall novice sweepstake award, according to Kyle Bligen, assistant debate coach.

While celebrating their strong national showing, Hill said the team still remembers what debate is about and why they are willing to put in the long hours and hard work.

“Debate is a space where young visionaries and advocates can come together and really advocate for what they believe in,” Hill said.

She started her journey to national champion status on a whim, when Dawkins invited her to a debate practice because her former professor was the coach. Hill said she wanted to see what it was about. After spending time with the team, she was hooked.

“I was like, ‘I’m definitely on this team, I love these people,’” Hill said.

The strong bond that Hill felt with her teammates is a large part of what powered the team to their wins.

“The great teams, the ones that really win, are not (just) great debaters but great friends,” Stanescu said.

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