U-M debate team secures its first national title

After finishing runner-up seven times, the University of Michigan debate team has finally clinched its first national championship.

U-M Debate, which began in 1903 as one of the oldest debate programs in the United States, secured the championship trophy at the 2024 National Debate Tournament in Atlanta thanks to debaters Kelly Phil and Bennett Dombcik. They won on a 5-0 decision against the University of Kansas April 8.

"We are thrilled to follow in the footsteps of the football team’s recent national championship and bring the Larmon Trophy to Ann Arbor for the first time,- said U-M debate coach Aaron Kall, the Lee H. Hess Director of Debate.

Phil is a senior from Taiwan majoring in political science. Dombcik is a senior philosophy major from North Carolina.

"Winning the National Debate Tournament is always a goal I’ve had,- Phil said. "None of this would have been possible without our coaches and support system. I am forever grateful for their irreplaceable contributions. This win is for all’of us, not just Bennett and I.-

Dombcik said the win was something he couldn’t have imagined a year ago.

"I can’t overstate how thankful I am for the coaching staff and my partner, Kelly. This has been something we’ve been working towards since day one of the season and to cross the finish line after overcoming some of the best teams in the country is a reflection of the amount of hard work we have put into this year.-

The 78th annual tournament, held at Emory University, featured 78 teams representing 47 universities and colleges. Two-person teams debate each other on a year-long topic concerning U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

U-M’s team finished the preliminary rounds with a 7-1 record. In the elimination rounds, Michigan defeated Michigan State University, 4-1; Georgetown University, 4-1; California State University Long Beach, 4-1; and Emory University, 3-2, before beating Kansas in the championship round.

During the last four decades, the debate program has come close to winning the national title by reaching the tournament finals in 1989, 1991, 2014, 2015, 2021, 2022, and 2023. Last year, the team finished as runner-up to Wake Forest University.