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KCKCC debate makes history

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Matt Casas and Brian Gonzaba have qualified to the National Debate Tournament, which is at the end of March. Kansas City Kansas Community College is the only community college to qualify for the tournament in three consecutive years. (KCKCC photo)

by Kelly Rogge

The Kansas City Kansas Community College debate program has made history as the first community college in National Debate Tournament history to qualify in three consecutive years – something that makes KCKCC students Matt Casas and Brian Gonzaba very happy.

“What I feel right now is gratitude,” Gonzaba said. “I worked really hard just to get into college, so to go up against some of the most academically-talented students in the country and do as well as we did feels pretty good. Horns ‘up.”

Casas and Gonzaba qualified to the NDT, college debate’s version of the NCAA tournament, during the District Tournament March 1 and 2 in Oklahoma. Since the NDT was created in the 1940s, only nine community colleges have qualified. When KCKCC qualified two years ago, it was the first time in school history. When the college qualified again last year, KCKCC was the first community college to qualify back-to-back since Odessa College in the mid-1980s.

“This is a big deal,” said Darren Elliott, debate coach at KCKCC. “Most community college teams are there for two years, and then they are gone. It means a lot to maintain this kind of success even though people have left.”

KCKCC competes at the CEDA Nationals (open to any two or four year school) and Phi Rho Pi Community College Nationals (open to only community colleges) every year. But the NDT is selection based and KCKCC has only been selected three times. What makes this year’s qualification even more special is how it happened. In the NDT, there are 78 spots available. The first round is the top 16 teams in the country, voted on by the coaches. This is equivalent to the guaranteed NCAA basketball tournament spots given to conference champions. The next 46 slots are divided up among the various districts. The last 16 spots are at-large bids, once again voted on by the coaches. The last two years, KCKCC has made it to the tournament as an at-large team.

However, this year, KCKCC qualified out of the District Tournament and KCKCC’s district is one of the toughest in the country. Elliott said there is no division between Division I universities such as a K-State, University of Kansas or Missouri State and a community college. Everyone competes together. So in a district that covers Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico, competition is tough.

Casas and Gonzaba, who have been a team since they were students at Milliard South in Omaha, Neb., debated in eight preliminary rounds compiling a 5-3 record. They had wins over K-State, University of Central Oklahoma, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Missouri State and University of Texas-Dallas. In the qualifying rounds after preliminaries, KCKCC defeated K-State again to earn the berth to the NDT.

“During the first 40 years of the NDT, it was dominated by private, four year universities. That has changed significantly in the last decade, and I think that says a lot for what is being done in education,” Elliott said. “I think part of their success can be attributed to how well they know each other and the passion they have for the things they talk about in debate. They talk about issues that they personally have an interest in so they are things they truly believe in.”

Over the next few weeks, the NDT is March 28-31, Casas and Gonzaba will be preparing by researching topics as well as staying on top of their KCKCC coursework. There is one thing that neither student, however has when entering tournaments against much larger schools – intimidation.

“I think it works to our advantage,” Casas said. “I think they underestimate us. We are not intimidated.”

Kelly Rogge is the public information supervisor at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

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