Spotlight on: Sac State Debate

Double Talk

Debate team

DOUBLE TALK—Brandon Garcia (left) and Will Hampton-Bruce are formidable debate opponets.


Don’t get into an argument with Brandon Garcia and Will Hampton-Bruce.

No, they aren’t mixed martial arts experts. They don’t carry weapons. In fact, Hampton-Bruce has been seen sporting a “Co-exist” t-shirt.

But when it comes to quarrels, they rarely lose.

As standouts on the Sac State Debate Team, they’re one of the most highly regarded duos the campus has seen in many years and they’ve set their sights on the National Debate Tournament, featuring the top 200 collegiate teams in the country.

“Debate is like a really intense extracurricular activity or even a sports team,” Garcia says. “We essentially give up weekends where we could be studying for finals and we’re at tournaments, but there is a lot of enjoyment in competing at a tournament.”

Sac State competes in policy debate. Teams of two research a given topic, preparing to argue both sides. The students are not judged on oratory skills or presentation—opening remarks are often delivered with the cadence of an espresso-fueled auctioneer as competitors pack in as much evidence for their case as possible within the allotted eight minutes.

Kristen Tudor MA ’03 (Public Communication), Sac State’s director of debate, says the debate team is accomplishing its ultimate mission, which is to provide experience in debate to as many students as possible. There are currently 28 students in the program, up from just four when Tudor revived it in 2003.

“The benefits of debate, even if it’s just for one tournament, are so great,” Tudor says. “I like to reach out to those novice students who have never competed, who think, ‘Oh, I could never get up and compete in a debate.’ I think that’s what our program has been really strong at.”

Garcia began debating as a junior at McClatchy High School. Four years later, he and Hampton-Bruce are a formidable tandem, especially after winning the open division at Cal State Northridge’s Robert Barbera Invitational in November.

“I think winning the Northridge tournament shows the growth we’ve gone through, both as a partnership and as an overall team,” says Garcia, who is majoring in international relations.

Sac State Debate has a rich history. Renowned professors David Wagner and Barbara O’Connor coached the team in the 1970s and ’80s. Numerous lawyers and other professionals cite their debate experience as crucial to their development. Garcia and Hampton-Bruce hope to build on Sac State’s tradition by having the team reach the national tournament, something that hasn’t happened in more than a decade.

“Qualifying for the NDT is a life goal for me,” says Garcia.

Sac State will have to wait at least one more year after Garcia and Hampton-Bruce came up just short in February’s regional qualifier.

“We’re hopeful that Sac State’s dry spell of qualifying for the NDT will end, but it’s really hard,” Tudor says. “The schools that usually qualify are the ones with the million-dollar budgets and a team of coaches that’s deeper than our whole department of communication studies.”

Tudor is just as excited for the 26 other students in Sac State Debate, who are gaining valuable skills and experience they’ll carry on to the next stage of life.

“They’re taking what they learn in all of their classes—political science, government, history, philosophy—and seeing intersections of all those things in debate,” Tudor says. “It’s really inter-disciplinary and exposes them to ideas they never would have experienced otherwise.“

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