By Michael Hill
Back to back national championships for the Rutgers-Newark debate team led by the two best collegiate debaters in America, both holding trophies — Ferguson, Mo.’s Nicole Nave and Newark’s Devane Murphy — a product of the Newark Debate Academy and his mother and grandmother’s insistence.
“I didn’t really have any other option,” Murphy said.
While millions were sweating over their March Madness brackets, the veteran duo was creating a record-setting madness. First, pounding the top seed at the Cross Examination Debate Association National Tournament in Kansas one week and the next at the National Debate Tournament. They defeated nearly 200 teams from Emory, Georgia, Wake Forest, USC and more.
“Rutgers is probably one of the only teams in the country that debates the way we do which is very different to the norms of what people are comfortable with,” said Murphy.
They drew on their personal and environmental experiences in a port city with tons of truck traffic to debate the pros and cons of the U.S. establishing a policy for restricting private sector greenhouse gas emissions.
“I have chronic bronchitis which is something that I feel everyday as a result of the polices that implemented and I use that to build that conversation of the ‘we’ that was never meant to be here,” Nave said.
“One in four kids in Newark has asthma. I’m one of those kids, I have asthma,” Murphy said. “I talk about it all the time. Literally there will be moments where right before a speech we’ll have our asthma pumps in our hands to use, not because it’s a prop. Literally, I almost had an asthma attack.”
Judges score debaters on a number of factors including persuasiveness. At the cross examination debate, Nave shattered a record: she earned five perfect scores out of eight.
“I had no idea that it was going to happen,” she said.
“Unheard of. That doesn’t happen,” Murphy said.
After coaches have scouted other teams, Nave and Murphy read, study and strategize their way to preparation and ultimately perfection.
“It’s amazing, right? Just amazing. So think of this also — these are students that are excelling in their work in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers-Newark,” said Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor.
“It’s really impressive but what it really takes is the talent that we have on the team. Devane and Nicole are amazing debaters but beyond that the cohesiveness of us all working together is what makes it amazing,” said Rutgers-Newark Debate Team Head Coach Willie Johnson.