U-M Debate Team finishes as runner-up at National Debate Tournament for third straight year

April 4, 2023

For the third year in a row and seventh time overall, the University of Michigan Debate Team earned second place at the collegiate National Debate Tournament.

Wake Forest University hosted the 77th annual tournament March 31-April 3 in Chantilly, Virginia. Seventy-eight teams with 156 competitors from 45 institutions participated.

U-M’s team of Kelly Phil, a junior from Taiwan majoring in political science, and Rafael Pierry, a senior from Monta Vista, California, majoring in political science and philosophy, lost to Wake Forest University in the final round of the tournament on a 4-1 decision.

Prior to the finals, Michigan’s verbal duo defeated teams in the elimination rounds from the University of Iowa, Wake Forest University and Emory University.

For two other U-M teams, Joshua Harrington and Giorgio Rabbini reached the Elite Eight and David McDermott and Kelly Skoulikaris reached the elimination rounds of 32. U-M was one of three schools—Emory University and Wake Forest University—to have all three of their debate teams reach the elimination rounds.

Phil and Pierry, who ended the season with a 77-9 record, also received the Rex Copeland Memorial Award, given to the top-ranked collegiate debate team in the country at the conclusion of the 2022-23 regular season. The debate team previously finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the country in 1997 and 2022.

U-M debate coach Aaron Kall, the Lee H. Hess Director of Debate, was awarded the Ross K. Smith National Coach of the Year Award March 30. The award recognizes lifetime achievement in coaching intercollegiate debate and has been presented annually since 1967.

Michigan’s Debate Team, which began in 1903, is one of the oldest debate programs in the United States. The program has come close to winning the national title by reaching the tournament finals six other times in 1989, 1991, 2014, 2015, 2021 and 2022. In addition, the team made it to the Final Four in 1988, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2011, 2016 and 2018.